There are many definitions for what is innovative.
Often these definitions use the words “new” or “inventive” or “pioneering”.
I prefer this description of innovation: “fresh insightful connections”
Each of these three words; “fresh”, “insightful” and “connections” helps not only identify what is innovative but even more importantly, help one become innovative.
Insight brings humanity and people into the innovation equation. Since much innovation is eventually experienced by people, it is critical to understand peoples unstated needs by watching, listening, and learning from their behavior.
After all, the best innovation solves a problem, finds a better way of doing something or brings tangibility to an unspoken gap.
Data is not insights, but insights can be gleaned from data by looking for patterns or idiosyncrasies.
Netflix uses co-relation a form of pattern finding to both recommend and greenlight new content.
Amazon uses idiosyncrasies about how people navigate its experience (sudden twists and turns in their transaction journey for one) to ask why?
Fresh is a better word than new.
New, really is about time and the calendar and not about a way of thinking.
Fresh implies something different from the status quo. It is about a never seen or never thought about approach. Today, we see so many of the same images, and find so many of the same things all over the world, that we really wake up when we see or come across something fresh. So fresh that it fits no cliché and often requires its own language.
You remember the unusual, the moments when your travel fell out of a well-planned itinerary.
Fresh awakens and makes for tattoo moments that will be embed in us (and our customers.)
Connections is a about the process where the human mind takes the same letters of the alphabet but puts them together in a unique way to create something that far more compelling than the parts that went before. All the components for innovation existed. The magic was in the connecting.
In the creativity of the connections, one unlocks the combination that unleashes innovation.
Google’s connected the insight that a more heavily referenced citation in an academic document should be ranked higher than a less cited one, with how pages linked to each other and gave birth to a fresh approach to search.
The iPad connects the insight that there was no computing device optimized for consumption and slouching (phones are for communication and walking while computers for creating and sitting), with a tactile, almost sensual approach to interacting with content to create a new object of lust.
In category after category, one sees these three factors in innovation. Fresh. Insightful. Connections.
So, begin by gleaning insights. Then put all the ideas one has down on paper that help solve unmet needs driven by these insights. Now shake and stir and step away and come back and see if you can connect things in fresh ways that still resonate with the insights.
Three simple methods to drive innovation.
a) Unbundling/Re-bundling: Break down your product or service or customer experience or journey into its component parts and ask what parts can be eliminated or how can they be re-configured or re-bundled.
A bank removed multiple steps from the process of opening an account by breaking down the steps and then eliminating some that were duplicative or no longer relevant, digitizing others, importing data into the process rather than needing people to fill in forms or bring data with them, and making the process available 24X7.
Unilever outsold Procter and Gamble shampoos in India by recognizing that instead of selling many head washes at a time in a bottle they should sell a single wash in a sachet that was more affordable to the millions who earn daily wages and do not have the money to buy an entire bottle.
Airbnb will soon launch a new threat to landlords and the legacy rituals of renting by asking why a need for a security deposit is there and why should leases be yearlong? This insight came from the fact that almost a quarter of their stays were over a month long during the pandemic. Why own a second home when you can have thousands of second homes available for a month or three months everywhere in the world without any of the fixed costs, maintenance hassles and the dreary ritual of returning to the same place?
b) Blank Sheet of Paper with a Red Team/Blue Team: Create two teams. One that works to find ways to enhance your current product or service based on insights, and a second whose only goal is to vanquish, destroy and put your brand out of business. Both teams are free to use all legal and scientifically available tools with some economic constraints like the need to break even within x months or years.
Often, the attacking team ends up being more innovative because of two keys to innovation which are a) no anchor of legacy structure or thinking and b) refusing to accept anything except the law and science as a given.
c) Diversity of Voices: A key to fresh insightful connections is to have different people with different backgrounds and experiences working together in an environment where every voice is heard. Diversity of ethnicity, gender and expertise are all key but even more critical is a culture where people can speak up, challenge the status quo, and take leaps of imagination. This requires both a diverse work force but also a culture that is supportive and provides trampolines of trust for the hesitant or questioning voices and the daring risk takers.
To be innovative think “fresh insightful connections” and then decompose and recompose your product, service or experience while suppressing legacy thinking and constraints.
You will be surprised at how many ideas you will come up with.
Then the key is to implement the good ideas.
Because if you do not someone will.
Photography by Alex Burke.
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Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/