Want to get more ideas and innovation from yourself or your business?
Here are my top 6 tips for how to do it.
Tip 1 – Don’t Assign Innovation
Who really wants to be innovative? If you have lots of other stuff to do then the answer is nobody. That’s why you can’t “assign” innovation.
Really innovative ideas come from people who are actively engaged in trying to solve a problem they’ve identified. People have to have a personal commitment to solving a problem. They have to be resilient in their desire to solve the problem, whichever form the solution may take and for however long it takes. The self-selection of the “problem solvers” ensures that people come together naturally and can make it through the ups-and-downs of the innovation process.
Allow people to work on things they find interesting. People should naturally have sound knowledge in their chosen areas or be able to acquire the expertise quickly. Then encourage people to take the time to empathetically view their customers and bring ideas forward, no matter how crazy sounding at first.
Tip 2 – Don’t Worry About ROI
You will never see ROI at the start. If you can, then the idea probably isn’t that innovative. The initial idea will change several times as it adapts to solve the right problem. In many cases it could take 2-4 years for the product or service to gain wide acceptance whilst it builds a solid foundation in smaller segments of the overall market.
Be cautious of your initial judgments because the pace of innovation can make today’s idea obsolete by the time a product is in front of customers. Conversely it also means that an idea may not have a sizeable market today, but will have a great market in 5 years that is also growing extremely fast.
There should be a clear and specific rationale as to why you think solving a particular problem will actually matter in 5 years time. You should be able to identify something that is changing in the market place that is deeper than industry research reports, and then be able to connect that change to the value proposition for your solution and customers.
Tip 3 – Measure Real Progress Not News
This tip might sound harsh but this is where a bit of tough love is needed. You should only measure something that at its core gives an indication of real progress in a commercial market – i.e. an indication that at some point in the future a customer will pledge cash to a product or service (or provide cost reduction or whatever the idea is actually suppose to deliver).
Things that count as real progress:
- Actual sales
- Actual users
- Evidence that shows the proposed solution is solving the “right” problem for customers, not just the problem you see
- Something that shows people are using or have a willingness to adopt and pay for your product to solve their problem (you may have to be creative when it is a solution that can’t be immediately shown to people and give them a service instead that simulates the product)
- There are also a handful of other indicators for specific industries that can be measured to clearly show market adoption
Things that count as news:
- Acceptance into an innovation program
- Participating in business pitch competitions
- Industry and corporate award programs for new ideas
- PR campaigns that get stories in newspapers, magazines and social media followers
- Getting a grant, winning some cash or finding investors
Keep in mind that some of the things listed as “news” can be good for business or a project, but only to the extent that those activities are actually furthering the things that do count as real progress.
Tip 4 – Don’t Overcomplicate the Solution
Short and sweet … keep things simple. Ask yourself what is preventing me from getting this product or service to customers within 1 month.
There are typically only 3 valid answers to this question.
- You have an idea but you don’t really know what to make of it. If this is the case then they should be actively focused on talking with people to discover specifically what the right solution looks like.
- You know what to make, but will need more time to actually make it. If this is the case then you should ensure that you are not “overcomplicating” a solution or trying to be perfect to the point of paralysis. You should focus on a solution that solves the vital few most important issues to get it out and then test with real people. The opposite of this is building the most complicated thing that tries to solve everyone’s problems, taking too long to get it out to people and then if any changes are needed you’ll have a big complicated thing to “re-engineer”. Enforce prioritization of the problems that “should” be solved out of a list of all of the problems that “could” be solved.
- You know what to make and have developed the appropriate solution, but you don’t have the funding to move forward. If this is the case, then the obvious answer is to get funding. For people who must seek investment (inside or outside of the company), you should focus on getting commitments from potential customers, get direct feedback from potential customers on their commitment to buy a prototype version you’ve created or get people to sign up for some scaled down version of the service you are able to offer today. It is much easier to get the cash from the executive board, investors or crowdfunding sources if you can show growth in one of these or a similar metric.
Tip 5 – Fund All the Moving Parts
Startups, SMEs or intrapreneurs can’t and shouldn’t be expected to have all of the expertise to go from concept to a commercially successful product.
However, you should be expected to take on a bit of good advice and assistance, then be able to use it quickly so you can become successful enough to acquire the proper resources (this is where the resiliency and teamwork kick in).
Some of the things I see that most people always need help with include:
- Finances (accounting, forecasting, budgeting, ROI, and fundraising – where to find the budget if you’re an intrapreneur)
- Legal (patents, IP, contracts, licensing, staying out of court)
- HR (hiring, payroll, benefits, outsourcing)
- IT (even IT companies don’t have all the IT skills covered)
- Product design & engineering (making something beautiful that actually works)
- Sales (sales, distribution channels, routes to market)
- Marketing (clearly explaining their value proposition to the right channels and then delivering those messages)
Without the right support and training, participants can get bogged down in the stuff that takes them away from identifying and building the best solution for their specific problem. They often end up running out of time, money or resilience to carry on the path to commercializing their ideas.
Be careful not to “false start” with these moving parts. You shouldn’t look to focus on addressing these needs until you have clearly identified the product-market fit and have a tested solution ready to deliver.
Tip 6 – Compound Your Success
This final tip comes after you have produced some successful outcomes. Since the goal is to bring a concept to market, some might think you’re finished. What more could you ask for than successfully bringing a new idea to market?
The first big effort should be to highlight the successful product so your company can gain more traction. Put your most passionate customers out front. Show how you are solving a real problem for them. This kind of attention has the added benefit of attracting the most qualified future employees. Which also means that your next innovation should be better and get to market faster.
You should connect your product with complimentary ideas, product ranges or companies that compound the opportunity to use the innovation in other areas. This is especially exciting if the innovation can be used in a market that traditionally has been stagnant or doesn’t seem like a match at first, because this means there are probably limited competitors doing something innovative in that space.