Archive for September, 2014

Customer Value – the Crowned Jewel of Innovation

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Innovation results in things that are novel, useful, and successful. These things can be products, services, data, information, or business models, but regardless of the flavor, they’re all different from what’s been done before.

And when things are different, they’re new; and that means we don’t know how to do them. We don’t know how to start; don’t know how to measure; don’t know how they’ll be received; don’t know if they’ll be successful.

In the commercial domain, successful means customers buy your products and pay for your services. When customers value your new stuff more than they value their money, they pay; and when they pay it’s success. But first things first – before there can be success, before there can be innovation, there must be customer value. With innovation, customer value is front and center.

How do you come up with ideas that may have customer value? There’s a goldmine of ideas out there, with some veins better than others, and any dowsing you can use to pan the high grade ore is time well spent. There are two tools of choice: one that channels the voice of the customer and a second that channels the voice of the technology.

Your technology has evolved over time and has developed a trajectory which you can track. (Innovation On Demand, Fey and Riven.) But at the highest level, as a stand-in for technology, it’s best to track the trajectory of your products – how they’ve improved over time. You can evaluate how your products improved over multiple lines of evolution, and each line will help you to channel the future from a different perspective.

The voice of your customers is the second divining rod of choice. What they say about you, your company, and your products can help you glean what could be. But this isn’t the same as VOC. This is direct, unfiltered, continuous real time capture of self-signified micro stories. This is VOC without the soothsaying, this is direct connection with the customer. (Sensemaker.)

There are two nuggets to pan for: limiting cant’s and purposeful misuse. You seek out groups of customer stories where customers complain about things your product cannot do and how those cant’s limit them. These limiting cant’s are ripe for innovation since your customers already want them. Purposeful misuse is when the radical fringe of your customer base purposely uses your product in a way that’s different than you hoped. These customers have already looked into the future for you.

Do these ideas have customer value? The next step is to evaluate the value of your diamonds in the rough. The main point here is only customers can tell you if you’ve hit the mother lode. But, since your ideas are different than anything they’ve experienced, in order assay the ideas you’ve got to show them. You’ve got to make minimum viable prototypes and let them use their loop to judge the potential cut, color, clarity, and carat. As a prospector, it’s best to evaluate multiple raw gemstones in parallel, and whatever customers say, even if you disagree, the learning is better than gold.

How can we deliver on the customer value? With your innovations in the rough – ideas you know have customer value – it’s time to figure out what it will take to convert your pyrite prototypes into 24 carat products. There are missing elements to be identified and fundamental constraints to be overcome and backplane of the transmutation is problem definition. Done right, the technology development work is a series of well-defined problems with clear definitions of success. From the cleaving, blocking and cutting of technology development the work moves to the polishing of product development and commercialization.

Innovation can’t be fully defined with a three question framework. But, as long as customer value is the crowned jewel of your innovation work, most everything else will fall into place.

Your money or your time, which is worth more?

20140917-214717.jpgIf you were given a choice – for the same number of hours worked you get 20% more money, or for 20% fewer hours worked you get the same money – which would you choose?

In real life it would not go that way, but set that aside for a moment. It’s a thought experiment, a choice between theoretical options as it assumes you’ll actually work the same hours for the extra money and assumes you’ll actually work less and get paid the same. If you actually had the choice, which would you choose?

To me it comes down to two questions: If you had more money, what would you actually do with it? And, if you had more free time, what would you actually do with it? But these questions aren’t theoretical. No kidding, with your current lifestyle, with your existing priorities, with how you live your life, what would you do with more money and what would you do with more time?

With more money, would you pay off some bills, buy some new stuff, save for college, go on vacation, donate to charity? With the money some well-worn options come quickly to mind. Would 20% more money make a substantial difference in your life, or would you slowly ratchet up your spending so the extra money is no longer extra, but essential?

With more time, what would you do? What are the top three that jump immediately into your brain? I think this one’s tougher. If instead of five days a week you worked four, what would that day off look like? If you had every Friday off (in addition to your existing vacation days), what would you do? Sure, for the first four Fridays you’d catch up on your sleep, but then what? The time-money seesaw is so lopsided, we don’t know even how to think about this.

I think the best use of your extra time would be to figure out what to do with your extra time. What if on your fifth Friday, with your sleep deficit behind you, you did nothing? I mean nothing in the true sense – you get up at your regular time, eat breakfast, shower up, and do nothing. I mean eight hours with no electronics, no laptop, no video games, no TV, no books, no phones, where it’s just you and your tedious thoughts? Actually, I think that would be too much time with yourself, and one hour a week would be enough to set you on your path.

Before you can decide what you’d do with your extra time, you have to figure out what you want from life and why you want it. And to do that, you need to allocate a regular time to sit and do nothing. And you don’t even have to think about what you want and why you want it. If you sit, it will find you.

Truth is you don’t need an extra day off every week to carve out an hour and sit quietly. But if you do sit quietly you will figure out what you want out of life and why you want it and then you will come up with some wonderful new ways to spend your time. And because those wonderful new things will be deeply grounded in what you want out of your life – you’ll create the time to actually do them.

We’re clear what our money will buy, but less clear on what our time is worth. You’re one hour away from tipping the balance and clearing things up.

 

If it’s not different, it’s not innovation.

Upside-down houseCreative products are novel and useful; Innovative products are novel, useful, and successful. Beforehand, it’s impossible to know if something will be successful, but if it’s useful there’s a chance it could be; beforehand, it’s subjective whether something will be useful, but if it’s novel there’s a chance; but no one is sure what novel means, so replace it with “different” and you’re onto something. It’s clear if something is different, and if it’s different, there’s a chance it could be creative and innovative. Said another way,

if something isn’t different it cannot be creative, nor can it be innovative.

If you can generate more things that are different, you’ve increased your chances of creativity and innovation. And if you generate more ideas that are different, you’ll create more things that are different. Go on a quest to create more ideas that are different and you’ll have more creativity and innovation.

Ideas that are different come from the firing of different neural pathways. And to get different pathways to fire, you’ve got to first recognize when the old ones are firing. To do this, you’ve got to be aware of your worn pathways and be aware you’re reusing the overused. A different environment is needed – an environment that governs speed. If you have a culture of speed and productivity, this will be different.  It doesn’t matter what the different environment is, it matters what it isn’t.

Different ideas result from the collision of old ideas seen from a new perspective. Put different people together who have different old ideas and different perspectives and different ideas will grow from the collisions. There’s no recipe for the exact distribution of people, but if you don’t put them together now, then those are them.

And to break new neural pathways, the environment in which ideas should be different. Again, there’s no prescription for the type of space or the furniture, just that it’s different. If the engine that creates the old ideas lives in an ordered space, make the different one disordered; if there’s carpet all around, lay down some linoleum; if there’s no art on the corporate walls, hang some; if the furniture matches across the teams, make it a clustered-jumble of mismatched pieces. The general approach: whatever it looks like and feels like where the same ideas are regurgitated day-in-day-out, do the opposite.

And to attract different colliders and their ideas, provide something different in the different space. If your regular coffee is terrible, the different coffee should be amazing; where people queue up to use the same tired tools, provide too many seats of the newest and best; where low fat, low calorie, responsible food is doled out in reasonable portions, provide free (and unlimited) access to irresponsible junk food.

Creativity and innovation start with different.

Image credit: quinet.

Prototypes Are The Best Way To Innovate

Protype of first mouseIf you’re serious about innovation, you must learn, as second nature, to convert your ideas into prototypes.

Funny thing about ideas is they’re never fully formed – they morph and twist as you talk about them, and as long as you keep talking they keep changing. Evolution of your ideas is good, but in the conversation domain they never get defined well enough (down to the nuts-and-bolts level) for others (and you) to know what you’re really talking about. Converting your ideas into prototypes puts an end to all the nonsense.

Job 1 of the prototype is to help you flesh out your idea – to help you understand what it’s all about. Using whatever you have on hand, create a physical embodiment of your idea. The idea is to build until you can’t, to build until you identify a question you can’t answer. Then, with learning objective in hand, go figure out what you need to know, and then resume building. If you get to a place where your prototype fully captures the essence of your idea, it’s time to move to Job 2. To be clear, the prototype’s job is to communicate the idea – it’s symbolic of your idea – and it’s definitely not a fully functional prototype.

Job 2 of the prototype is to help others understand your idea. There’s a simple constraint in this phase – you cannot use words – you cannot speak – to describe your prototype. It must speak for itself. You can respond to questions, but that’s it. So with your rough and tumble prototype in hand, set up a meeting and simply plop the prototype in front of your critics (coworkers) and watch and listen. With your hand over your mouth, watch for how they interact with the prototype and listen to their questions. They won’t interact with it the way you expect, so learn from that. And, write down their questions and answer them if you can. Their questions help you see your idea from different perspectives, to see it more completely. And for the questions you cannot answer, they the next set of learning objectives. Go away, learn and modify your prototype accordingly (or build a different one altogether). Repeat the learning loop until the group has a common understanding of the idea and a list of questions that only a customer can answer.

Job 3 is to help customers understand your idea. At this stage it’s best if the prototype is at least partially functional, but it’s okay if it “represents” the idea in clear way. The requirement is prototype is complete enough for the customer can form an opinion. Job 3 is a lot like Job 2, except replace coworker with customer. Same constraint – no verbal explanation of the prototype, but you can certainly answer their direction questions (usually best answered with a clarifying question of your own such as “Why do you ask?”) Capture how they interact with the prototype and their questions (video is the best here). Take the data back to headquarters, and decide if you want to build 100 more prototypes to get a broader set of opinions; build 1000 more and do a small regional launch; or scrap it.

Building a prototype is the fastest, most effective way to communicate an idea. And it’s the best way to learn. The act of building forces you to make dozens of small decisions to questions you didn’t know you had to answer and the physical nature the prototype gives a three dimensional expression of the idea. There may be disagreement on the value of the idea the prototype stands for, but there will be no ambiguity about the idea.

If you’re not building prototypes early and often, you’re not doing innovation. It’s that simple.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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