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Innovation Isn’t Always Shiny

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:

  • Time
  • Budget
  • Internet availability
  • Technology
  • Organization

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.

Possible innovations:

  • 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.

About the Authors

Sheri Weppel
Sheri Weppel started her career as an art teacher covered in finger paint, clearly teaching people about out-of-the-box thinking (or at least off-the-construction-paper thinking). While working on her master’s degree in Instructional Design and Development at Lehigh University, she realized that we could learn a lot from the public-school classroom. Concepts like micro-learning, learning styles, gaming, and training on demand were common in grade school, but were considered new concepts in the corporate sector. Because one degree is never enough, Sheri continued her studies at Lehigh with a focus on Gaming for Instruction. In her spare time, she spent her evenings losing to her husband in Scrabble and wanting to throw the letter Q across the room, making her realize the emotional attachments we can have to games. If we could harness that desire to succeed, compete, or win to a learning environment, what impact could we have on learner motivation? Countless games of Scrabble later, Sheri started at GP Strategies as an Instructional Designer and was able to inject those concepts into solutions for her customers. This is often a challenge for customers that want to use gaming but often don’t believe they have the time or budget required to successfully launch into the gaming space. Sheri is driven to help these clients find a balance in embedding gaming elements into instruction in a practical manner. In the past nine years, Sheri has held many roles within the organization, from instructional designer to sales lead for blended learning, and is now focusing on the off-the-shelf product GPiLEARN+, growing the product into a true blended learning solution. Regardless of her role, Sheri is always focused on working with customers to help build impactful training solutions that focus on the needs of all populations. She helps clients determine specifically when to incorporate gaming versus using hands-on, traditional approaches. When she is not working, Sheri enjoys having adventures with her dog Olivia, attending barre classes, and learning new three-letter words that begin with the letter Q.

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