Market share, for example, is only meaningful if you’re in a stable, contained, and well defined market. Fat chance of that today as markets merge, converge, and diverge. In our turbulent markets with such high levels of flux, market share measurements can easily distract you from creating whole new product or service categories, markets, or even industries. How good an indicator of future success was market share, customer satisfaction, and quality levels if you were a horse-pulled carriage maker in 1912?
Many innovations come from a deeper level of customer and market understanding. They go beyond what current customers say they need. They solve problems that customers either don’t realize they have or didn’t know could be solved. These innovations create needs and performance gaps only once customers start using them and get turned on to the possibilities. For example, in the early eighties, no focus group, survey, or customer satisfaction measure could have shown a big demand for fax machines, lap top computers, or cellular phones.
Every product and service we now take for granted was once silly, interesting, or just an odd curiosity. What would you have said to a market researcher asking about a video machine for your TV when there were few movies to rent? How about CD players when there were no CDs to buy? What about a bank card to withdraw cash from an ATM? How about a personal computer?
Effective innovation depends on disciplined management systems and processes. But it starts with people.
Innovation is a hands-on issue. It calls for an intimate understanding of current customers and markets, potential new customers or markets, team and organization competencies and improvement opportunities, vision, values, and mission. You can’t develop that intimacy from a distance. Studies, reports, surveys, graphs, and measurements wouldn’t give it to you. Effective innovation depends on disciplined management systems and processes. But it starts with people. People searching for creative ways to do things better, different, or more effectively. People trying to understand how other people use, or could use, the products or services their organization could produce. That makes innovation a critical leadership issue.
Beyond the management tools of surveys, focus groups, and the like, innovation leaders find a multitude of ways to live in their customers’ world. They’re learning how to learn from the market, not just market research. Innovation leaders look for ways to align the organization’s product and service development competencies with latent or unexpressed market and customer needs. Since customers don’t know what’s possible, they often can’t identify innovations that break with familiar patterns. At the other extreme, leaders recognize that their organizations are constantly in danger of developing products and services with little or no market appeal. So many new (or extended) products and services come from empathic innovation. These are innovations that flow from a deep empathy and understanding of the intended customers’ problems and aspirations.
There are as many ways to innovate as there are potentially new products and services. Here are a few insights and ideas:
Keep asking your customers and partners (internal and external) lots of “What if?” questions. Ensure the answers are circulated throughout your organization. Don’t allow anybody to write all this off as just wishful thinking. Remind them that somebody’s wishful thinking brought us every service and product we use today, developed our modern economy, and gave us one of the richest lifestyles in history. Innovation leaders find ways to translate wishful thinking into the “logical and obvious” products and services we eventually take for granted.
By Jim Clemmer
Jim Clemmer is a bestselling author and internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal growth. During the last 25 years he has delivered over two thousand customized keynote presentations, workshops, and retreats. Jim’s five international bestselling books include The VIP Strategy, Firing on All Cylinders, Pathways to Performance, Growing the Distance, and The Leader’s Digest. His web site is www.clemmer.net.