Innovation isn’t shiny – it’s about problems.
When people talk to me about innovation, there is usually something shiny involved. It might be virtual reality, augmented reality, or a new piece of technology, but it is almost always guaranteed to be shiny – and expensive. I also describe this type of innovation as “a solution looking for a problem.”
Let’s look at two different situations with the same shiny solution:
- Situation A: I am driving down the road, and I see a billboard for a new Apple Watch – I think to myself how fun and exciting having the watch would be. Everyone has one; I want to have one, too; I will seem so innovative.
- Situation B: I am sitting in a meeting and waiting on my husband to let me know he will be home on time. I don’t want to be rude to my customer, so I have my phone stashed in my bag. I feel a soft buzz on my wrist and realize it’s my husband calling as he does every day on the way home – and instantly I know my sweet puppy will get her dinner on time.
Both situations have the same end result: wearable technology. But only one is innovation – solving a problem with a unique solution.
When looking to innovate, remember the following three critical steps:
Identify the problem.
If you are innovating, there should be a specific problem you are trying to solve. This is a great time to consider the five W’s:
- Who – Who does the problem affect? Specific groups, organizations, customers, etc.
- What – What is the true issue? What happens if we don’t solve it?
- When – When does the problem need to be resolved?
- Where – Where is the issue found?
- Why – Why is it important?
Problem Statement: My new puppy needs to eat her dinner on time (and get outside), but my husband often works late. When I am in a meeting, I don’t have the ability to receive his call to ensure someone else can help the puppy. If we ignore this problem, the puppy will have an accident in the house, possibly chew on things that she shouldn’t, and have too much energy when we arrive home.
Identify your constraints.
Using the problem statement above, start to identify the types of constraints that you might encounter. Example constraints include the following:
- Internet availability
Constraints: Availability of a phone in the meeting, time sensitivity of information, having my husband remember to call the dog walker.
Identify your innovations.
Considering your constraints, identify possible solutions and potential consequences of those solutions.
- Have my husband call the dog walker directly (behavior change).
- Have the dog walker feed the puppy every day (long-term cost implication).
- Put the puppy in doggy daycare (long-term expense).
- Have my phone out at the end of the day (customer reputation).
- Don’t schedule meetings at the end of the day (customer challenge).
- Use wearable technology (one-time cost).
This is where you will truly get to the root of innovation as not always being shiny. Some of the best innovations are changes to processes or changes to roles. Innovation should impact your organization and your customer with results that you can see and measure. Sometimes technology CAN be a solution, but only after you have evaluated the problem, considered the constraints, and identified it as your best solution. Something shiny as a solution to a problem is definitely okay – but start with the problem, first.