The most frequently used word now a days is – “Innovation”. Not just in technology companies or startups but every where starting from schools to all kinds of industries and businesses. So what is this Innovation really and why this is such big buzz word now?.
As usual the disclaimer is – I am not THE expert in this area. At least for the sake of the topic, I will try to be myself (this is the case with most of my blogs) with my original thoughts and views. So don’t expect from me to write a structured methodology on Innovation.
Coming back to the question..What is Innovation really and why so much buzz?. I think since the beginning of human brain existence we have been innovating. We are continuously discovering some thing new in every area – science, music, arts, poetry, etc. So honestly Innovation is there all the time. But we have used different names for different era. May be during Industrial era we would have called “Continuous Improvements” or some thing. Human beings never stopped innovating and we will never be…
So why so much more buzz now?. I think this is simply because of two reasons – 1) We have reached a point of advancement where there is less (relatively) need for manual and routine based work – basically moved far ahead of industrial age 2) Now most people can access same information across the globe due to internet.
This basically means Innovation is becoming an essential commodity for survival. Hence you are hearing more about this. Soon Innovation will be no more sexier word and it will become Industrialized.
PROCESS IMPROVEMENTS VS INNOVATION
Until few years ago, most companies were focused on process improvements or incremental changes. The terminology mostly used were cost optimization, economies of scale, quality, time to market (at decent pace), etc. Companies had different groups and initiatives to focus on these KPIs essentially.
While these improvements were taking place, companies like Apple and Google came in and they have revolutionized industries and some competitors and segments got fully eliminated. Companies who were mostly focusing on incremental stuff got sudden wake up call. Now fortunately or unfortunately there is no confusion on where to focus. Now every business and industry is expected to bring real innovation and not just simple improvements. Technology advancements have eliminated the need for small improvements and called for big innovations.
Some innovation in some industry will trigger some other innovation in some other industry. This is what I call as “Innovation Proliferation”. In Ray Kurtzweil words ““Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and that makes a profound difference. If I take 30 steps linearly, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, I get to a billion ”.
So the Innovations are happening in non linear way. Both at individual level and companies level the expectation is to deliver cutting edge innovations and not some superficial improvements. Process improvements could be delivered with some slow pace and peace. Innovation is expected at speed with edge. So only few can cope with this combination. Now every company is trying to figure out how to cope up this combination !!. And as part of this new innovation methodologies, frameworks and innovation philosophies are emerging.
Even though many things can be standardized, “anybody can do any thing”, etc, I personally think ideation and innovation are brain driven. Some brains naturally generate ideas. We call these kind of personalities as “creative people”, “Innovators”, etc. Some people are more focused on tasks. They are naturally gifted at execution. And some other set of people are more interested in relationships/people etc. In simple terms we have three broad types of core personalities – visionaries/innovators, execution focused and people/relationship focused.
Now is the tricky part. Earlier we could have three different set of people to deliver the end results. While one guy is focused on ideas and other two could focus on people and execution part. But now if you simply give an idea there is no value. Some one else will steal your idea and deliver it fast. No body cares whose idea was it. At the end all people care about is results. This is the Hard truth.
Especially now we are expected to deliver the innovation in fastest time possible. So unless the Innovator plays major role of leading and delivering the Innovation there is no real value. Innovator now need to be like a leader. He/she need to come up with idea and form a team to delivery the innovation. This is very different from earlier days where some high intellectual guy comes up with idea inside a room and he will be looked at as a great guy.
Now Innovation means delivering Innovation not just ideas. Innovation = Idea + Implementation and of course with ultimate bottom line improvements. If you look at major Innovators they have brought in the ideas and implemented them for profits.
INNOVATION IS ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Any innovation without implementation will become simply just an idea or theoretical framework. When you get the original idea you feel “aha” movement. Later it will become “oho” moment when we get into implementation part. I am not sure how this will be in an incubation center kind of environment but in a large corporate set up and startup it will be very challenging. But in all areas one thing common is – we need to take the idea, experiment and go into unknown territories and make it a success.
When you come up with an idea lot of people come to you to hear you out then once you start facing the challenges people will move away. So like any entrepreneur type journey you will become lonely at some point. But when you start seeing some success all people will try to join you the party and try to take piece of your cake. This is especially more prominent in large corporate setups.
I strongly feel real Innovator = Entrepreneur. You will be given small fund for implementing your idea and then you will be put under tremendous pressure to show the results and profits. At one point you will get a feeling that why the heck did I come up with this idea !!. Idea can change life but you wouldn’t expect this way !!. So point is any real innovation is an entrepreneurial journey. So if you prepared to take some knockouts and still stand up then will get a taste of it. Otherwise Innovation will look like a beautiful lady with hard heart inside !!
Unless you already know what design thinking is, when you hear this first time, you will get a feeling that this may some thing related to design. But Design thinking is simply a methodology to solve complex problems.
Design thinking is the latest buzz under innovation area. Unlike many other methods, I think, Design thinking is very powerful. Why?. I think this is the first time problem solving approach is mainly based on the “human centered”rather than pure KPIs, etc. In simple terms, solution would be developed keeping human as the center of the stage. Since this approach has emotional content obviously the effectiveness would be very high. So in turn this will help business metrics. Because end of the day the consumers are still humans.
World’s most innovative companies have been using Design thinking directly or indirectly. First thing that comes to my mind is Apple. I think most people are attached to Apple products simply for the experience. This experience starts from when you open any apple product package. And it will go all the way to typing experience, navigation, store experience to customer service,etc. So any thing that is focused human experience will have stronger effect.
This era is luxury era and it is about instant gratification, experience and shorter attention span. So unless you really create that kind of experience customer will go away from you in less than 30 secs. It in not for the love of humans we became human centered. It is the need of the business !!.
DESIGN THINKING – FIVE STAGES
As I mentioned earlier, even though the term “Design Thinking” might look like some thing related to Design but it is actual about solution based approach for solving problems.
There are 5 stages in the Design Thinking process. When you hear about these stages you may feel bit bored as this looks like one more “process/methodology”. Actually, I get dead bored with the normal processes and methodologies. But what makes Design Thinking special or interesting is – the real fun when you actually implement these steps. I will write about the Design Thinking application in different areas and you might find them very interesting. Until then pls bear with the boring theory part.
Step 1: Empathize: This is the most important step. It is about emphatic understanding of the problem we are trying to solve. This is what makes Design Thinking approach special. Unlike other problem solving approaches, this talks about empathy/user centric approach. Empathy allows design thinkers to set aside his or her own assumptions about the world in order to gain insight into users and their needs.
Step 2: Define the Problem: Based on all the information/research gathered from the Empathize phase, we will define the problem statement. The main important point is how you define the problem?. You need to define the problem as a problem statement in a human-centred manner. Based on how you define the problem your whole solution may change.
Step 3: Ideate: Based on the problems identified, you come up with different ideas to solve the problem. You may use any technique you want to – like brainstorming session, etc. It is vital to collect all possible ideas without judging any idea. Purpose of this phase is to stimulate the thinking.
Step 4: Prototype: This is an experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three stages. The solutions are implemented within the prototypes and, one-by-one, they are investigated and either accepted, improved and re-examined, or rejected on the basis of the users’ experiences.
Step 5: Test: This is the final stage of the 5 stage-model, but in an iterative process, the results generated during the testing phase are often used to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of the users, the conditions of use, how people think, behave, and feel, and to empathize.
DESIGN THINKING FOR LIFE
Let’s look at how we can use Design Thinking (DT) for designing your life. If we replace the “user” with “you” then I thought you can run all the 5 steps in DT to see how you can solve any problem for “you”. After I got this thought I learnt that two professors at Stanford, Bill Burnett and David Evans, teach a course called “Designing Your Life” !!. Very interesting. Also, they have written a book called “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life”. I am not sure what their thought process is on this but I will share my own thoughts/approach.
Step 1 Empathize: This about understanding user. In this case it will be “you”. So try to understand every thing about you – beliefs, needs, emotions, etc. You need to detach yourself from you then try to be very empathetic (first time??).
Step 2 Define the Problem: Here you will articulate the problem you are trying to solve or whatever you want. Again important point is how well you articulate and define the problem statement or goal.
Step 3 Ideate: Let’s say one of the problem/goal statement is “I want to change my career”. Here you will come up with different ideas without any constraints/restrictions.
Step 4 Prototype: Here you prototype your ideas. In the case of change of career, you basically come up with different career change solutions to your ideas.
Step 5 Test: This is THE MOST important step when it comes to Life design. In this step, you test each of your ideas/solutions in parallel to your current career/job to see how it is working. Most often your original assumptions might fail or it will re-define your original problem. Bottom line is without much risk you can pilot and test your ideas. This is very much possible in most cases.
In summary, whatever you WANT in Life, you can run through these steps to test it out fast to validate your original assumptions/ideas/solutions to see if they yielding what you are expecting !!.
DESIGN THINKING FOR WRITERS
In the last post, we saw we how we can use Design Thinking for designing a Life/Career (very high level though). Today, lets look at how we can use DT for writing your first & best book.
Step 1: Empathize: Think & research deeply about your reader (your user). What he/she would like to learn from this book. Most writers write a book based on what they( writer) like, not based what the readers will like. I think this is the main real factor and it not so much about luck for success of a book. So when you use DT approach you are going to write a book which the readers will like. This is the first and most important step.
Step 2: Define The Problem: Based on the research you will come up different problem statements/areas of interests that the readers showing interest. This step will help you identify the potential areas on which you can write the book.
Step 3: Ideate: Based on the potential areas you come with different ideas to narrow the best topics and titles.
Step 4: Prototype: So how do you prototype a book idea?. Multiple ways you can prototype. One is to write your book as a blog posts (summary/concept level) and share it with multiple people to check the feedback/response. Second option is to create a small video on this book concept and share it. Or even you can write the summary of your book and take the feedback. Or even simply talk to close people with all your book concepts/ideas
Step 5: Test: Get the feedback from test readers with all the different prototypes.
Even though the process looks little complex in the reality this can be done much easily compared to writing the whole book effort and getting surprises at the end.
DESIGN THINKING FOR FOR MAKING MOVIES
I always get this thought about movies – Director & team works on a movie for an year or two like a secret project then in 3 hrs audience will give the verdict. Instead, can they do some “Pilot/Test” to see if the concept will gel with audience. Basically, I was thinking if Design Thinking & Lean Start up principles can be used to in film making.
Just before typing the above paragraph, I just went to google and searched if any one had attempted this so far. The google gave an Yes answer !!. Read the below link.
It seem these gentleman work in Design Thinking area. And they have conducted interviews (empathy), concept video (Prototype), Feedback (testing), etc. to raise the funds to make the film.
In my personal view, most movies are taken based on the director/writer’s “deep attachment” to the story. But audience may or may not get the connection to story & movie. This could be the major factor for good film vs bad film.
So the bottom line is whether it is a movie, software product or any thing else, USER is the god and ultimately we need to fulfill the desires/wishes of users and not our own wishes.
DESIGN THINKING FOR SOCIAL INNOVATION
Design thinking goes beyond technology and business areas. DT is a very powerful approach for bring the innovation in social areas. Nonprofits started adopting it now. Actually, I think DT is most suited for solving social problems because here USER is the serious user who needs real help. Most importantly, most social problems can’t be solved in the conventional way because these require lot of money, effort and other complex eco system issues. So, these needs more creative, cheaper and simple solutions.
I am referencing here some of the examples where DT was used to solve social problems.
Design Thinking for Social Innovation – How design thinking methods solved the problem of clean drinking water in the Indian countryside.
Solar Energy in Rural Africa – There are 1.6 billion people world-wide without electricity. Mobisol set out to change this in rural Africa, using design thinking to create a sustainable and accesible energy source.
Proximity Designs – Proximity Designs is an award-winning, social enterprise based in Yangon, Myanmar. They design and deliver affordable, income-boosting products and services that complement the entrepreneurial spirit of rural families. Great example of design thinking at work!.
Design Thinking for Educators – How can educators use design thinking to improve learning in the classroom? This website provides you with resources for making the learning experience more creative.
Above are just few examples.
DT should be made as standard problem solving tool in all areas. And it should be one of the skill that needs to be taught to even college students.
DESIGN THINKING & LEAN STARTUP
Design Thinking and Lean Startup are the most commonly used terms in both large enterprises and startups now a days. What is the difference between these two and when to use which one?.
As we have seen earlier, Design Thinking is to come up with an user centric solution based on a problem. Where as Lean Startup picks up once initial solution is finalized. In DT, we have Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test phases. And LS, we have Build, Measure and Learn steps. LS steps will become part of the Test phase in DT.
Let me take a simple example. Say we try to address a retail shopping customer problem or we want to increase customer experience. We would have done the DT phases to come up with set of prioritized solutions and out of which we would taken one solution. Lets say the solution is to implement a VR solution for every customer who enters into the shop. Now, before building the full blown VR solution, we need to testing the pilot. Now we take this VR solution into Build -> Measure -> Learn steps, where you build base MVP and take it to the test market and learn from the actual customer.
In summary, Design Thinking and Lean Startup are two most power approaches that go hand in hand in innovation. DT comes from problem space and LS is from solution space..in a way.
LEAN STARTUP FOR EVERY ONE
” Be More Innovative”, “Stop Wasting people’s time” and “Be More Successful”, etc. These are the benefits from the Lean Startup approach. If we go back to the old “Lean” approaches used in the manufacturing days these are the similar things you would have heard. May be instead of Innovation it was more of “process improvements”. Lean Startup approach would have come with more focus on how to launch a startup successfully. But I think this approach is applicable for large companies, SMBs and startups. Even this is applicable in any personal projects.
Earlier days large companies used to take their own time to build products and take it to the market. They had to cross all the internal bureaucracy and complexities before they can launch a product. Since most of those big companies had the luxury of either monopoly or dominance in certain areas they could take their own time. Now the product or service need to be taken to the market ASAP otherwise it won’t be valid any more.
So this approach is applicable every where. Most costly failures could be avoided using Lean Start up approach if one follows religiously. But I think when it comes to practicality people and organization they try to follow old patterns hence the failures continues. Like Design Thinking, Lean Start up should be practiced at personal level and business level to really see the benefits.
LEAN STARTUP IN LARGE COMPANIES
Lean Startup name should be changed to something else sooner or later as this name seem to be more apt for “Startups”. In the reality I think LS need is more for big companies than Startups. Why? In startups sooner it will become very evident when the idea/product is not going to work esp given they have less resources, time and every thing is less or constrained. But when it comes to large companies there is a luxury not to be so Lean. So the damage is not very visible for not being lean. And I think the risk is huge for large companies if they don’t follow LS approach in the hyper competitive world.
Every large company now a days talks about “Innovation”. It is very to Innovate in smaller setups and startups. And it is very easy to be agile in these environments. But when it comes to large companies there are so many constraints ( quite opposite to startups) – compliance, processes and procedures, culture, people mindset, etc. And it becomes very difficult to Innovate ( I mean Real Innovation) in large companies.
So what is the solution?. I think Eric Ries suggest large companies to setup separate unit/entity within the large organization which focuses on Innovation but they will have autonomy and agile processes which helps them to bring Innovation. While I agree with this, it becomes very difficult for large companies to operate in this model. Why? – Because large company people take the key decisions ..which will align again to large company thinking rather than startups. This is where many companies failed in this model. Can you think of best example of this? Yes, you got it !.
This is one of the reason why large companies try to buy niche startups or partner with them. And this works most often.
NEED F1 TEAM FOR INNOVATION
“Innovation” sounds like a sexy word at the beginning and in fact it would be that way when things start off. But soon, the people who are driving and delivering would be under pressure. Why? Two main reasons. At the beginning you would think your are the only one who is having this “unique” idea. Shortly, you will realize there are other bunch of guys coming up with similar idea. So the initial sexiness goes off. Second reason is at execution phase. You need to execute at super speed. My definition of Innovation is “like a marathon but each mile you have to sprint”. If it is a just normal marathon if you run at your pace then it would be fine ( this is what used be referred as “process improvements”). But you need to sprint within the marathon. That is why it is difficult and you need different kind of genetic make up for this kind of journey. Hence only few companies can deliver innovation at this speed.
In my personal experience, like any other thing, team is the most important thing. In the traditional world (where you can go with at reasonable pace), it would be ok if one or two people with in the Innovation team is not having the genetic make up required. You can always make it up. But in the real Innovation game even if one key member is not having right personality then it will drag entire your innovation program. While it is not possible to get the best team always but for sure you will fail if you don’t have right team – esp during pressure points.
You really need a F1 team for Innovation !!.
Innovation will become the NEW Industrialization soon. This means, Innovation becomes very basic and essential for every aspect of human life – be it at individual level, for business, for political systems and every where. Even though Innovation is part of civilization development ever since, now it would be altogether very different. Why? – Mainly because of “Innovation Proliferation” . One Innovation will fuel ten other new Innovations and those ten Innovations will fuel hundred others. So part of current generation and next generation will experience very different kind of life on this planet. Soon once upon a time science fiction will become a reality.
There will be always downside to any extreme development. The downside could be some of the jobs would be replaced be AI, Automation, etc. But this kind of side effect you will always face. Unless there is a problem there is no room for Innovation. Job losses will trigger Innovation at government and economic policies level. So this cycle will continue. As I have written earlier every advancement will go to peak and take 1/4th U Turn. So don’t worry much about any too much advancement. Just understand the cycle and we will be fine. Read about 1/4th U Turn concept => 1/4th U Turn
In conclusion, Innovation is a MUST for every one even for basic survival and now the so called fancy Innovation thing will become routine soon. Innovate and experience the thrill of Innovation while it is hot.