I was intrigued to see a Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation column that has pulled together lessons I previously covered in blog posts. The Blue Sky Innovation team posted what innovators and innovation observers are focusing on for 2014. The lessons cited below all can be found within this column.
Ask the right question
In previous posts I highlighted helpful questions to ask: Does it have to be this way? What can we subtract? How do we get away from fixed thinking?
Donna Harris, an investor in startup ventures and founding member of the K Street Capital angel network in Washington D.C., says, “we are seeing a tremendous amount of social disruption coming to regulated industries.” Most important for innovators is what Harris says next: “Entrepreneurs are increasingly looking at traditional industry and asking why it operates the way it does.”
After all, asking that type of fundamental question is the first step to innovation.
Donna Harris implies that asking the right question has led, and will continue to lead entrepreneurs to disruptions in traditional industries as the next step in innovation.
Disruption was once a shocking term when applied to a production process. Now it’s an innovation buzzword, proving that you cannot innovate without it.
"‘Meaningful disruption of major industries is cheaper, faster and easier to achieve than ever before’” is the good news offered by Terry Howerton, co-founder of TechNexus, the Illinois Tech Association which is a working space and incubator for tech startups.
Which customers should I focus on?
In my post on emerging patterns, I said that disruption is entering a market at the lowest level with a lesser, more affordable product to compete against non-consumption, such as developing a product for people who previously could not afford it. A key aspect of disruption, then, is deciding which customers to focus on.
Zach Kaplan tells us that the availability of new software, novel applications for the new 3D printing, and “the desire for people to use more materials to create their ideas” will coalesce “to introduce a whole new class of products to consumers that were not economically viable before.” Kaplan cites the examples of laser cutting and 3D printing, and especially CNC (computer numerical control) milling “because of the wide range of materials that can be used.”
Kaplan ought to know—he founded the successful Inventables, whose target customers are startup manufacturers who need novel materials for their innovations.
Incoming 1871 (a co-working center for digital startups) CEO Howard Tullman says, “Growth is inherently embarrassing. Get used to it.” Prototyping means trying and failing until you get it right. Getting used to prototyping "failures" and persisting is key.
This speaks to the innovating successes of Nike (read about this more in “How Nike Ran Ahead in Innovation") whose persistent prototyping means that teams are “embarrassed” time after time until the right product evolves.
There is something to be said, then, for superb project management skills and for teams that are used to working together over years (like Nike’s) because they have developed a working relationship that overcomes Tullman’s concept of “embarrassment.”
Bill Fienup, whom the Chicago Trib’s Blue Sky Innovation team labels “serial entrepreneur and mechanical engineer,” predicts: “I think we will see digital fabrication and rapid prototyping tools dominate the innovation forefront in 2014.”
When a “serial entrepreneur” touts “rapid prototyping tools,” we understand the implication—the innovation process requires prototyping capability. The need, then, is to make prototyping more affordable, more accessible.
Asking the right questions, disrupting, focusing on the right customers, and prototyping: these fundamentals of innovating really work.