As a leading innovator in consumer electronics and digital product, we hang out with other innovators, usually in corporate environments but sometimes with other agencies devoted to innovation. One thing we’ve noticed over the years is that while all of the people involved with innovation are bright minds (some of the brightest), they are often stuck. They become unable to innovate; spinning their wheels, as it were, in the course of trying to find something new.
These teams are most often stuck because of their expertise. There are so many innovation methodologies on the marketplace that everyone, it seems, is an expert at innovation of one sort or another. And this mix of ‘ways to innovate’ simply results in no innovation at all. So while the rhetoric of accepting new ideas, creating an innovative environment, and listening to the customer are all spot-on, innovation teams that naturally focus on ‘how to innovate’ often have trouble actually innovating.
Here’s a way to get back to making real innovative discoveries: concentrate not on what you’re doing internally, but on what your customers are doing externally.
Externally. Meaning no more user feedback data, surveys, focus groups or in-house interviews – these customer touch points always have a bias associated with their outcomes. To get to the new stuff, the innovations, you have to get out of the building and study your customer ‘In-the-Wild.’
First User Group was in this same situation several years ago. We were already design thinkers and ‘innovation experts,’ but we found ourselves enamored with how to innovate over how to conduct research. And very quickly our work faltered. So we went back to basics and re-read our ethnography books and design-thinking manuals, paying close attention to those sections on field work. The results were phenomenal, essentially jump-starting our innovation practice and leading to the creation of the Innovation Engine – one of the most prolific innovation tools in use today.
This jumpstart won’t be easy. Once you’ve become an expert at anything it’s hard to go out and do the grunt work of anthropological research, but you’ve got to get out there if this is going to work. We’d recommend spending 50% of your time over the next month creating tests and getting into the field. You aren’t likely to find your next innovative product, that can take thousands of hours, but this exercise will get your team invigorated and back to the task at hand.
So ignore your methodology for now, and remember that every innovation in the history of man has been discovered through the observation of the human animal, and then designing to ease a pain. Getting into the field for a month will impress upon your team the importance of this credo, and innovation will soon follow.