September 23, 2011 by Speakers' Spotlight
Nine Trends in Innovation
Guest blog from Richard Worzel
Let’s talk about what you should be trying to achieve with your innovation, the manner in which you should be focusing your innovation, rather than how to go about it. I’ve talked about how elsewhere, so let me outline the 9 trends in innovation that I see emerging – or re-emerging – today. (A more complete version of this article, with examples of each trend, can be found here)
1) Exclusivity is overrated; fanaticism is more valuable
Companies attempt to keep profits up and avoid discounting by creating a premium brand, and fostering a sense of exclusivity about their products or services. A better way to do this is to seek to create a fanatical customer base that is devoted to belonging to, or being a member of the experience you create.
Of course, creating fanatics isn’t easy. It takes years of work, meticulous attention to detail, and outstanding customer service. In an environment where management wants instant results, where the bottom line seems to scream for cutting corners, and where customer service is known simply as “overhead”, none of these are popular choices. But look at those companies that have fanatics instead of fans, look at their profit margins, and then ask yourself whether it’s worth it or not.
2) Create ecosystems, not products
The best technology names in the world today, like Apple, facebook, or Google, they don’t create individual products, they create systems that interact and support each other. This is far superior to creating standalone products or services.
3) “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want”
This comment, apparently, is something that Steve Jobs has said repeatedly inside Apple. If you are innovating, then you are, by definition, doing something new, and your customers won’t know if they like it until they’ve actually tried it. Hence, it’s your job to figure out what your customers are likely to want before they know themselves.
4) Seek beauty and perfection in what you offer
This sounds like an airy-fairy idea, but it’s actually a path to superior profits. It’s easy to make something “good enough”, and good enough often sells. But if you are truly trying to innovate, good enough is never enough. To quote Steve Jobs, you want to create something “insanely great.”
5) Create experiences, not products or services
There’s an old marketing cliché that “Nobody wants a quarter-inch drill; what they want are quarter-inch holes.” Today, consumers want to look past your offering, and consider their experience with the results. So forget the quarter-inch drill; go for the experience. And the experience starts and ends when the customer thinks it does, not when you think it does.
6) Eat your own lunch – and everyone else’s
Many companies resist the idea of introducing significant changes in their offerings for fear it will eat into their existing sales and hurt their revenues. The reply is so obvious that people never actually think about it: do you want to cannibalize your sales, or let one of your competitors do it? This is an old, established principle in innovation, but one that is so well known that people take it for granted – and don’t, as a result, make use of it. Yet, with the speed with which things are changing now, this is taking on a new urgency.
But go beyond this, as Apple did. They not only ate their lunch, and that of their direct competitors, but helped themselves to big portions from the music and publishing industries as well.
7) Speed kills – your competitors
Carrying on the discussion of how Apple has grown seemingly effortlessly over the past 10 years, they have forced the pace of change to the point where competitors are struggling to catch up to their last innovation while they’re already working on its successor.
Of course, speed can kill you, too, if you don’t listen to criticism of your offering. You need to keep ahead of your competitors, and force them to make bad choices and introduce poor imitations of what you’ve done – but you also need to treat your own offering as a poor imitation of what it is going to become as you improve it.
8) Make lots of small mistakes
This seems to contradict trend #6, but doesn’t. In a handbook I created for my consulting clients, I suggest that the way to overcome the widespread fear of innovation is to institute a process of kaizen, or continuous improvement, introducing a steady flow of minor changes that, collectively, add up to massive improvements. There are two aspects of this.
First, when you create a culture of continuous, everyday improvement, the cumulative changes add up quickly, supporting the Need for Speed. Creating such a culture is not easy, but in today’s market, it’s essential. And second, when you use creativity-enhancing techniques in the quest for a steady flow of small improvements, you will occasionally stumble across a really big idea as well.
Ironically, when that happens, most people either back away from a big idea because it’s so scary, or fail to recognize it at all because it seems so different, so “outside the box.”
9) Use technology to make magic
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” said author Arthur C. Clarke. Technology is making magic on a daily basis – so find a way to bottle this lightning, and turn it to your advantage by using technology to turn aspects of your offerings into a magical experience for your customers.
If you are truly interested in innovating, then it must become a way of life, not just something you think once in a while. And if I can help, contact me.