How Biases, Prejudices and Ignorance can Quietly Undermine Innovation

The missing ingredient of innovation may lie in the human ability (or lack thereof) to see the world from someone else's perspective and take action on the insights that this ability can reveal.

Many innovation articles and blogs are currently discussing the elements required to help make an organization more creative and dynamic, how to create higher value for customers, even how to develop new business models to transform markets. Executives seem to be looking for some “secret sauce” that will make the discovery-analysis-creation-launch process somehow easier.

Reading the various views on innovation may also bring one to the conclusion that, at least in the U.S. anyway, something seems to be missing within innovation efforts. Upon reflection, the missing ingredient may lie in the human ability (or lack thereof) to see the world from someone else’s perspective and take action on the insights that this ability can reveal.

What is needed in achieving the holy grail of “insights” is enlightenment. Specifically, it is an imperative for anyone seeking to create something new for the benefit of another person to first free oneself of biases, prejudices, and ignorance.

Many new product or service launches fail to achieve the level of success envisioned in a business plan. Much time and effort is placed into creating products and services that customers are supposed to want, need, and desire. These new creations go to market and bomb, and no one seems to know why.

Possibly the reason for these failures is that the research conducted at the very beginning of the effort was flawed by the very people conducting the research. Was the research simply being conducted to prove previously held beliefs? Was the research conducted to support a senior manager’s previous intuition?

The research team must be able to erase their existing assumptions and let the research actually expose what customers are doing and feeling, and not just saying. Research efforts are not a competition among the researchers to prove who is smarter or more clever. It is an effort to uncover what is truly existing in a customer’s world. If the research effort and subsequent analysis activities are stifled by the hubris of team members the research will probably not be very effective.

Effective research requires the team to eliminate its racial, gender, cultural, social, language, and geographic biases – no matter what they are – in order to determine what is actually occurring inside a specific customer world.

Enlightened research and analysis allows a person to embed themselves in the world of the subject. The colors, sensations, emotions, etc. that the subject of the research is feeling must not be clouded by the preconceived notions of the researcher or analyst. Enlightened research allows for deep, contextual awareness.

What is then discovered are the true emotional, physical, social, cultural and cognitive drivers of a set of people, and these drivers are incredibly useful for uncovering new areas of business and social opportunity.

The message here is to stop trying to fit your customers into preconceived boxes and become more observant by removing existing biases from the process. Solution development will arrive but understanding your customers better as humans is the first step and the ultimate measure of business success.

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