Think of the number of times your organization missed out on an innovation opportunity because the idea wasn’t grand enough. Or because you were looking for a technology breakthrough first to inspire that innovation. Or worst of all, because the budget would never be approved, so what was the point of trying? What if someone told you that you were approaching it from the wrong end all along? That innovation is about people first, and everything else can wait. This is the essence of an alternative approach to innovation. One where finding the problem is the most important element in innovation. For that you need to look at every new idea through the lens of empathy, feeling what the people impacted by it will feel, asking whether they really desire the innovation, and establishing whether it actually solves a fundamental problem or merely patches it over. None of this requires big money, complex facilities, or taking a year off. All it takes is imagination and the right perspective, and collaboration across multidisciplinary teams to make sure innovation doesn’t germinate inside a silo.
Because the priority then is the idea itself, it is important to come up with as many as possible initially, before zeroing in on ‘the one’ – the idea that is highly desirable or solves that big unresolved problem (often both). Although you will eventually need to establish whether the idea is indeed technically feasible to build or commercially sustainable in the market, that can wait. At this point what is more important is to give the idea a shape so that people can engage with it, react to it, and report that all important feedback.
The next step would be to get to where we want through rapid, iterative prototyping. In fact, ‘quick and dirty’ early prototyping is a way to sift through several ideas to find the ones worth pursuing. This – and admittedly it seems counterintuitive – actually serves to shorten the overall innovation cycle, and allows companies to try out many ideas at the same time. But, there are some rules. First of all, the prototypes should cost very little money and time. (It’s fine if they end up rough and rudimentary, as long as they convey the general idea). In fact, prototyping should aim only so far as eliciting feedback and providing adequate reason to go ahead with the idea. Said another way, the early prototype should be just that, and no more, certainly not a near-finished product. Because the more you invest in a prototype, the harder it is to let go, or to be open to crucial user feedback. Essentially this limits the clutter around innovation to train the focus on what really matters – user empathy, great ideas, and ‘just enough’ prototypes. That’s certainly a sprint you can run in 90 days!