Take one: Are You also Working on Innovation?

Originally Published on September 1, 2014 at www.linkedin.com.

Just ideas based on what I’ve been learning in these last years.

Innovation is an overused word these days. It’s also one of those words that we don’t know how to define. Just by quickly googling the word “innovation” I got almost 384 million results in a third of a second. That sounds like a lot. (As a reference, a search for “creativity” and “sustainability” gave me 197 and 39 million results respectively).

We look up to the googles, apples and ubers of the world; we want to be more innovative and we also want to have the word innovation on our business cards (yes, I’m part of that group, I know!). But how innovative are companies these days? And what are they doing to be more innovative?

From my experience, we are far from the ideal. But, is there an ideal when we still cannot agree on a single definition of innovation? My intention is not to define what innovation is, but to share some perspectives that I have experienced as I worked in innovation.

While working as a marketer in innovation for personal care brands at some CPG (FMCG) companies, we usually asked “what’s the next shampoo or haircare product we are going to launch?” That question led to some market and industry research, and let us prepare a clear product pipeline for the following years. We asked that question because 1. We knew how to make shampoo; 2. We had the resources and facilities to manufacture it; and not less important 3. We were good at making awesome marketing campaigns.

Following the shampoo example, we corporate employees tend to see users as shampoo buyers only. And we get even excited when we see our brands in someone’s shopping cart! Do you see my point? That’s the industry/company perspective. As Patrick Whitney (IIT Institute of Design) says, companies tend to see users as markets, not as people. And they tend to see innovation as product innovation only.

So, what if we asked a different question? As we were targeting 18–30 years old women, what if instead of asking “what’s the next shampoo we will launch?” we asked “What would make our users feel more self-confident and prepared for social interactions?” — I guess the answer would not have been “shampoo”. It would probably have included a whole system of solutions (products and services) that could have been out of the company’s current reach, thus leading to strategic partnerships and/or acquisitions.

But are companies willing to take that approach? I am not trying to make shampoo manufacturers give up their factories or other companies to get rid of their core assets. I’m just saying that if we start looking at our users as people, we might start asking different questions. And those answers, might open new opportunities for growth.

How to find the right balance for a user and a company perspective? I still haven’t found the answer, but we (our team and other user-centered designer friends) are working on bringing more user-perspective to companies. I don’t think there will be a single winning answer and we have to deal with that uncertainty.

As this is a conversation starter, what are your thoughts on innovation?