Hyper-innovation, as we’ve discussed, is a double edged sword. While it’s true that it’s quicker and cheaper than ever before for ambitious companies to explore ideas at lightning speed, if you’re not careful, quality will suffer. As Michael Schrage warned 15 years ago, speed for speed's sake is as valueless as innovation just for the sake of innovation. “That’s not business,” he cautions, “that’s self-indulgence.”
And the same thing can be said of ideas. Sure, it seems like a great thing to brainstorm as many ideas as possible: “Look! We win! We have the most ideas!” But the truth is, gathering buckets of ideas just to be able to say you have them is a fairly useless endeavor. Lots of ideas do not equate to innovation.
Ideas must be targeted, and they should serve the desired outcome; in other words, ideas should have a goal. They should be meant to solve a problem in a certain way. And the way you begin to focus your idea-generation process is by first understanding your market. That does not mean obsessing over how old, how young, how urban, or how rural you market segment is. It means understand the job that they’re trying to do.
Once you understand the job that people are trying to do, you can identify areas of opportunity, and come up with ideas that are targeted towards addressing unfulfilled or underserved needs.
After all, you aren’t going to invent brand-new needs, but you can definitely invent better ways to serve those needs. Look at it this way: Eastman didn’t invent the need to capture moments through images, but he did invent a much better way to do that job than ever before.
In the Innovator’s Handbook, Schrage suggests that “faster, cheaper, and simpler” experiments are one key to safer (i.e., targeted and productive) innovation. Now, this sounds contradictory at first -- aren’t lots of cheap experiments for the sake of it as worthless as lots of ideas? Well, without a focus, they would be. But if you do your research first in order to understand your market and identify areas for opportunity, then come up with ideas that serve your desired outcome, and only then experiment to validate your ideas, quantity and quality don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
You can (and should) interrogate your own assumptions about the feasibility, desirability, and viability of your ideas by validating them with potential customers before you rush out a mediocre product. That’s how to embody the true spirit of innovation, and avoid time-wasting and potentially costly bad iterations -- the kind that actually kill innovation.
Is My Idea Desirable?
Schrage talks about the importance of knowing who you want your customers to become. At first thought, that seems like he’s saying you should shape them, or invent new needs for them, but that isn’t what he means. Schrage is suggesting that you make it a point to give them the means to do the jobs they already want to do better, in a way that makes them better too. When Eastman invented a better way for people to capture images, he didn’t just help them do the job better -- he made his customers better by turning them into photographers.
Ask yourself: Have you come up with a whole new way to do a job? Or a way to do much more of a job much better? Have you identified unmet needs, a way that people can stop doing whatever weird workaround they're doing now to get the job done?
First understand what unmet or underserved need your idea is meant to fill, and then validate the desirability of that idea with potential customers. There are several types of experiments and tests you can run:
- Set up a honeypot site
- Perform targeted advertising
- Reach out to potential leads in a quasi sales process
- Launch a targeted social media campaign
Is My Idea Feasible?
This seems like the most straightforward of the innovation drivers to assess, but be careful: It’s dangerously easy to get caught up in an exciting new idea that’s incredibly desirable, but simply not possible to build. At that point it’s tempting to talk yourself into moving forward anyway, in the hopes that it can be built “someday soon,” but it’s never wise to move forward on something that isn’t possible. “But it’s such a great idea!” you say. Well, teleportation is a great idea too, and it seems innovative and futuristic, but until you can build a teleportation machine, it’s best to focus on other ways to improve how people get from point A to point B.
This is where teamwork comes in: You must enlist your devs and engineers to assess whether or not your idea is technically feasible. Do your research, and remember: If you can’t build it, they won’t come.
Is My Idea Viable?
If you’re making an improvement to an existing solution, you can’t just make it 1-2 percent better and expect people to spend money on it. Your product should be at least 20-30 percent better at doing a job than what’s already on the market if you expect people to switch. Why? Well one reason is perceived pain of adoption. As global strategist Pip Coburn explained in Fast Company, “People change habits when the pain of their current situation exceeds their perceived pain of adopting a possible solution.”
So your new solution needs to be much better - not just a little bit better -- for people to think it’s worth switching from what they’re used to. And the only way to be sure your idea is as awesome and viable as you think it is is to perform targeted experiments with potential users, just as you would to determine desirability.
Bottom line: Don’t be in such a rush to start iterating on an MVP that you don’t deliver value. As Andy Budd wrote:
In the rush to deliver a minimum viable set of features ... we often ignore the elements that make the product really great (the exciters and delighters in the Kano model). As quality gets stripped back in preference for functionality, we slowly see our products become ever more minimal and ever less viable. It’s very rarely one thing that does it. Instead MVP often turns into death by a thousand paper cuts.