In today’s chaotic and unpredictable marketplace where continuous innovation has become the price of doing business—and the only “business-as-usual” is that there is no business-as-usual anymore—many organizations struggle to keep up with the public’s unrelenting demand for “new, different and better.” Not long ago, you could thrive for years on just one great idea; today it seems you need a brand new game-changer every week.
This non-negotiable requirement to innovate is the fire that has been lit under us all. We all know we need it; we all strive to do it. But many of us have only a vague notion of what it is we’re actually struggling to achieve. Just what is innovation, anyway?
Innovation can be defined as the introduction of something new or different that provides greater value or benefit. It’s a simple definition for what can sometimes be a fairly complex process. But we find this explanation is clear and broad enough to help our clients understand what they should be aiming for when generating new ideas.
There are a limitless number of ways in which an individual, team or an entire organization can approach the innovation process. There’s no one-size-fits-all, foolproof formula. But there are proven creative problem-solving approaches that can be gleaned from studying innovation-driven leaders, such as Apple, Google, Starbucks, Disney, BMW, and others.
Here are ten idea-inspiring ways you can tinker with the characteristics, ingredients, parts, steps, form, functionality, design, etc., of pretty much anything—a product, service, process, message, even your resume—in order to make it more innovative. When tackling any challenge, first take some time to carefully consider what you want to achieve, and then explore each of the following creative problem-solving paths, and see which ones spark new, “A-ha!” possibilities.
- Simplify it—The less complex something is, the more user-friendly it will feel. The most innovative ideas are often startling in their simplicity. Unnecessary parts, steps, ingredients, etc. are stripped away, to reveal an elegantly effective solution. What can be eliminated, streamlined or combined to make your product, service or process as simple as possible?
- Make it more intuitive—In today’s fast-paced world, most people simply don’t have the time or patience to figure out complicated procedures or decipher cryptic instructions. They prefer anything that is streamlined, intuitive, user-friendly, quick, and easy-to-understand (i.e., foolproof). In fact many of the most innovative products today don’t even include instruction manuals! In what ways can you make it easier for your customer to comprehend, learn, interact with, or use your goods or services?
- Speed it up—Any innovation that delivers faster results—and therefore saves precious time—provides increased value. Today people hire others to shop for them, pay a premium when traveling to get through security lines faster and board planes earlier, and limit the number of items they purchase at the grocery store in order to qualify for the express line. In what ways can you speed up performance, response time, waiting time, delivery time, download speed, etc.?
- Extend the experience—People want to savor the good things in life. While in many ways ours has become a disposable society, in others, we value enduring quality and long lasting value. In what ways can you extend an enjoyable and productive experience, prolong relief, make something more durable or dependable, lengthen shelf life, or provide round-the-clock access or convenience?
- Make it beautiful—Apple products are coveted for their sleek and sophisticated design esthetic and elegant functionality. These highly innovative products sell at premium prices and inspire fierce devotion among their customers. In what ways can you elevate the esthetics of your goods or service? How can you make them more appealing to the senses? How can you delight your customer with beautiful design and functionality?
- Make it indispensible—The more versatile a product or service is, the more indispensible it becomes to its users. For example, smart phones allow us to talk, text, take and share photos and videos, surf the Web, interact with our social networks, conduct business, etc.—all from a single, all-in-one device that many of us rely on every day. In what ways can you add or combine new functionalities, features, or benefits, in order to meet a wider range of needs for your customer? How can you make your product or service one they can’t live without?
- Enhance the quality—High quality is the competitive edge that separates the “good” from the “exceptional.” Quality can be defined as the standard of excellence against which similar things are measured. Quality goods and services don’t just meet customer expectations—they exceed them. In what ways can you raise your benchmark for excellence to make your product the gold standard in its category?
- Add emotion—Innovative companies like Coca-Cola, Target, Apple, Starbucks, Nike, etc., have cultivated a strong sense of brand loyalty among their customers. Not only have they succeeded in appealing to their audience’s minds, they have also forged an intimate, heartfelt, emotional connection that transcends logic. In what ways can you develop a more emotional relationship with your customers, and connect with them in a way that resonates not only in their minds, but in their hearts?
- Socialize it—People by nature seek connection and a sense of community with others, including the brands and companies they value. At no point in history has this been more evident than in this era of social networking. Thanks to the now omnipresent connectivity provided by mobile technology and social media, we share our thoughts, emotions, likes and dislikes 24/7/365. For innovative businesses, this means unlimited opportunities for real-time dialogue and feedback from customers, crowd-sourcing valuable data, offering incentives and discounts, strengthening customer loyalty, etc. In what ways can you build greater social interactivity or connectivity with your customers? How can you become a part of their daily lives?
- Inspire awe—Disruptive innovation introduces radically new and unexpected features, functions, design, or value propositions, with the power to transform markets, or create entirely new ones. For example, Sir James Dyson’s radical, new designs for his ball technology/cyclone suction vacuum cleaners and bladeless house fans have dramatically changed people’s perceptions about how these ordinary household appliances should look and function. Dyson’s disruptive innovations changed the marketplace forcing competitors to scramble to play catch up with copycat products. What bold, new, and dramatic ideas can you imagine to set your product or service apart from all others?
Simplicity, convenience, speed, durability, functionality, quality, beauty, emotion, interactivity, and disruption—10 proven creative problem-solving approaches to innovation that can be applied to just about anything you have to tackle in the coming year.
The trick is to explore, imagine, play with the possibilities—while always asking yourself, Will this change we’re considering introduce something new or different that provides greater value or benefit? That’s what innovation is really all about.
Innovation is a mindset. Great innovators are those individuals and organizations that simply accept nothing less than continuous improvement, always moving closer and closer to perfection. If you adopt that attitude in 2014, your odds of success increase exponentially, even in today’s unpredictable marketplace.
Just wake up every day and look for something to improve. There’s always something.