How Do You Innovate?

When we think about what it means to be innovative, the one thing that is certain is that anything is possible. So, when everything can be done, there can be a paradox of choice for the products you have, the experiences you deliver and the business models you have.  The real issue is how to make decisions.

The Paradox of Choice

Because there are so many options, how do you decide what to do? When you move an idea one more level, one more step towards tangible realization, you must decide everything about that idea.  What does it touch? What business model is it part of? How can it actually be used in the lives of customers and clients it touches? You’ve got to have more voices in the room to actually help you make those decisions. You can’t innovate in a vacuum.  


That’s why there is so much value in getting outside of the four walls and moving the conversation about innovation out into the world.

That doesn’t have to be expensive or require a Ph.D. in Anthropology or Ethnographic Research. At the most simple, It requires having a better set of eyes. You just a better perspective and the deeper inputs to your innovation process both from the idea side as well as from the constraints side.  Those good perspective moments or nuggets, those influences, aren’t going to automatically give you better ideas, but they will give you better sets of constraints to apply to your problems.

Research with Low-Cost Ethnographic Tools

One thing that can be especially valuable in today’s world is to find some Gorilla digitally-centric or digital ethnographic tools.  Gigwalk and Fiverr are two really nice little platforms or little communities where people can post jobs to do.  You can pay a nominal fee to help you do research. Fiverr has a $5 model and Gigwalk is between $5 and $20. You are able to use those platforms as virtual ethnographic research ‘shopalongs’ which will give you access into people’s real lives. Your team can say “Hey, take me with you to your corner convenience store...” Or “Let me tag along during the day...” Or “I’d like to see the inside of your dishwasher. Let me see your pantry where you put your groceries. Show me your refrigerator.” Can you tell Helpfully has done research for a large grocery chain?!

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Gathering Inexpensive Customer Insights

Try this: “Show me the five apps that you use the most.”  Take screenshots of them on the customer’s or user’s phone. Then ask “Show me how you use them / why you use them…”.  Take more screenshots. Take a picture of the home screen on their phone. For research, I’ll pay you a dollar for that. There are a lot of insights  that we can glean from a soccer’s mom’s phone and from an executive’s phone. There will be a lot of differences. They will be very telling for your business model.

Pick an Idea to Investigate

An innovation funnel is always being fed so there is always a big stream of ideas.  What we like to do is to turn the funnel on its head and pick the single product, the single idea that is at the top of the funnel and really investigate it.  We call it the innovation rocket.

We take the single idea and ideate inside and then use some of the evaluation criteria sets. Some will be quantitative or financial. Others need to be much more focused on the human need or the desire of people to accomplish some tasks.  We flesh these ideas out. We often make low or high-fidelity prototypes to better understand the core needs.

Test Early and Often

The ability to test your innovations out on the world is a critical component of a well functioning innovation program.  

For us, this is a way to distinguish innovation work from R&D work. If it’s innovation, it has to get in the hands of a customer or user. If it’s R&D, the full benefit might be in the lab, the proof-of-concept, or the technology. Innovation requires business viability and customer desireability, in addition to tech feasibility.