Sources of inspiration

How a business evolves from point a to point n is one of the great engine rooms of consultative opportunity. Where is the font of knowledge that enables business innovation? Is it found in the minds of the experts, the MBA grads, the knowledge workers, the markets that use your goods or services?

Should we build better products or different products? Should we move from products to services? Are our current markets showing growth potential, if not where do we go from here? When faced with these tough questions there are four common sources that a business can draw upon.

  • Direct customer observation. If you observe people using your good or service this will give you a greater insight into its useability and the unrealised capability. This will lead to insight into how it could be augmented with enhanced capability and thus extending its life-cycle. Empathic design is one approach to this.
  • Conventional market research. Scanning the competitive field and observing the trends enables you to not only match the competition but anticipate future direction and be ahead of this curve. Fickle customer needs, market shifts or technological obsolescence all affect the business world – the smart are scanning and transmogrifying to survive. Be like Nokia – start in paper milling and end in telco, using ‘communications’ as the thread that binds their strategic tapestry together.
  • Technical and customer facing feedback. For many businesses the silo working often prevents a discussion to occur wherein the strengths and weaknesses of a good or service are discussed by a cross discipline team. There is as much to be learned about a product failure in the field as there is about a case study success. By bringing these teams together, learning from success and failure enables a business to adapt based on empirical 1st hand evidence. In this age of consultative selling many customers would value the opportunity to be involved in the innovation process. As indeed would internal employees – each with their own unique voice and ability to put their department specific lens onto the problem.
  • Moments of clarity. Sometimes the ideas that inspire opportunity come out of nowhere – seemingly. Despite the days of strategic brainstorming and incomplete business planning, one day you are mowing the lawn and the idea just pops into your head. It takes a bold individual to walk back into the business and suggest they change market and product based on a moment of insight in the garden. Yet time and again inspiration happens outside of the office. It will come as no surprise that the majority of the top 100 most innovative companies all share a common trait – they spend time and money on building an office that does not look like an office. Furthermore they take their people away regularly to talk and play – in order to the innovation juices flowing.

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