In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how to train your team to think with a customer-centric mindset. Part 2 focused on how to understand your customers. Here, in Part 3, we tackle a question we hear from businesses time and again: How do we innovate?
Innovation isn’t magic. It’s rarely a stroke of genius in an empty room at midnight when everyone else has turned into a pumpkin.
True innovation is a honed process of coalescing existing systems, processes, and parts into new products and services that fill an existing need in a new way. And, true innovation is systemic. It’s a repeatable process rooted in customer data, team expertise, and a work environment where interesting ideas grow.
The Fundamentals for Innovation
Practically speaking, we’ve seen innovation be the result of large R&D departments with a set process of approvals, We’ve also seen innovation from a few-person “skunk works” team who persist down in the basement. Both of these scenarios have two things in common:
- employees and management viscerally committed to solving problems with a customer-centric mindset.
- direct and consistent customer data to validate proposed solutions.
Another element that sometimes falls by the wayside when discussing innovation is the environment management creates for innovation to take place within the organization. Established organizations, especially, have a hard time with creating a culture of innovation.
Most of the focus on innovating has remained on scrappy upstarts, mostly in the technology space. However, there are ways to move the needle in these established organizations, and it starts at the top.
One example in our practice involved a global CPG company who was looking to explore ways to jumpstart their R&D ideas funnel. They wanted to try applying the framework of Design Thinking in a sprint-like format to jumpstart their R&D ideas funnel.
The main reason Design Thinking worked for this company is because the idea to explore innovation through this lens came from the Chief Research & Development Officer. Given this higher up support, it was easier for teams to take the risk. Employees from various cross-functional teams set aside their regular tasks to explore new ideas. This created an environment where employees were allowed AND encouraged to innovate.
Innovation can feel amorphous like a pie-in-the-sky activity. But, it shouldn’t be. With the right employee mindset, solid customer data, and the right company culture, innovation can become regular business.