When chasing innovation it’s easy to get lost in our dreams and lose track of reality. It’s part of being a dreamer. As innovators, we believe so strongly that we’ve found the answer that we start to forget what the question was. We get “innovation blinders.” We live in an economy where dreams can come true in a major way, but they can also blow up in spectacular fashion.
Innovators have a long history of creating products and services that have failed. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve personally learned from these experiences is that there isn’t a demand for every supply. Innovation can be costly, but it’s critical for any business that wants to withstand the test of time (ahem, Kodak).
Here are a few steps that you can take to avoid falling victim to innovation blinders:
1. Employ a devil’s advocate.
This person is critical to any innovation team because they keep everyone in check. When done right, this person challenges and grounds the team, while often pushing its ideas forward. One of the biggest dangers of innovation blinders is that it’s difficult to know when you have them on. The human brain has an incredible ability to rationalize almost anything, and when you’re innovating that ability can be a financial drain if left unchecked. It’s important to get a gut check from someone outside the core innovation team, just to make sure you haven’t lost our way.
2. Talk to the market
“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” – Henry Ford
This quote speaks to the importance and dangers of talking to the market. Humans have difficulty conceptualizing an idea that significantly different from their previous experiences. The average person in the early 1900’s couldn’t have predicted how common the car would become – which is why we’re lucky Mr. Ford came along. If Mr. Ford had taken the market’s word at face value he wouldn’t have pursued his dreams.
But the quote still tells a lot about customers’ needs at the time: They wanted to go faster. As an innovator and a marketer, that little insight provides direction through the question “How can I help them go faster?” If you know the question, you have a better chance at finding the right answer.
As an innovation evolves so will peoples’ reaction. It’s important to have multiple touchpoints throughout the process to best identify themes and underlying customer needs, and to check that you still know what question you’re answering.
Today’s world is filled with customers and consumers asking questions that call for innovative answers. As an innovator and a dreamer, I strive to invent answers that push society forward. The beginning of these projects are always exciting because they start with the most important question: What exactly are we trying to disrupt?
By Chris Tolan, Senior Analyst