Since innovations seem to be coming at us at an increasing pace – from the trailblazing iPod-iPhone-iPad products, to smart phone apps for TV, wellness, and just about anything else, to the latest 3D printers – each week I look for lessons and insights about product development and product innovation from recent news articles. Keep reading to see what caught my attention this week.
Recent tips about successful product development and innovation leads to two pointers:
- ask the right question, and then
- apply “design thinking.”
Ask the right question
Just this past October, the Wall Street Journal reported being impressed with the approach to innovation by Nest, founded by ex-Apple employees. They have developed a web-based thermostat and a web-based smoke detector – innovative ways to use old products. Their approach? “With both its products, Nest exemplifies what has become an especially promising path to invention in Silicon Valley…. First, find the most annoying, obvious problem that millions of people deal with every day. Then ask if things really have to be that way.”
This WSJ author bundles the creation of the mobile credit card processor, Square, Inc., into the same approach. After all, arts and crafts shows and food trucks didn’t accept credit cards before Square came along, since that would have meant traveling with a cumbersome credit card processing system. In this case again, the right question was asked: does it have to be this way? Once smart phones and apps became available, the answer could be different.
Those are examples of how an innovative idea can come about. Equally important is how to transform the idea into a successful product.
“Design thinking” is one recent approach offered in Business Week. The author lists cases of the road traveled to achieve a transformation. Here are two.
IBM had an idea that it could transform its stale approach to trade show marketing. It decided to seek out “conversations with a diverse set of outside experts (from Montessori’s founder to neuroscientists)” and then test-market the new approach at a financial services show. It proved highly successful. The lesson: ask end users how they would prefer to have IBM introduce new products.
It’s not just technology that benefits from breakthrough thinking. Business Week’s next case takes place in Holstebro, Denmark, where seniors weren’t eating government-provided meals. A group of gerontologists, public officials, chefs, nutritionists, and seniors who were clients designed a new meal service with higher quality, more flexibility, increased choice, and better communication between the elders and kitchen workers. Problem resolved. Note that here, too, the end users were included in formulating the solution.
At Fortune’s recent Most Powerful Women Summit, Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, echoed the idea that successful innovations include end-user input: she shared that Disney now employs social media to promote programming and to solicit feedback on programming.
Business Week’s article underscores that design thinking “can bring a set of processes and tools” that “emphasize attention to developing deep user-driven insights as the basis for envisioning new possibilities, engaging a broader group of stakeholders in co-creation, and then prototyping hypothesized solutions and testing these in small-scale experiments.”
Once you have transformed your product or service, a key step is piloting a small test run before a major rollout is launched.
Asking whether things really have to be the way they are, and then turning to end users for ideas and/or feedback truly can lead to innovative products or services.