So, here it comes again. Another blog post using an old standby as a way to make a point. Today’s old standby is the adage about placing the cart before the horse. In the fast paced world in which we live, there is great pressure to skip ahead to activities or actions that seem to provide value, or to assume we know enough information to skip over the humble act of understanding what people want and need. To that end I see far too many clients putting solutions and technologies ahead of innovation.
What’s worse, they are calling the selection of a new technology or solution “innovation” before they’ve done any customer insight work or research, or worse, in lieu of doing any trend spotting or customer insight work. Many clients are simply declaring a solution or technology and then using “innovation” as a way to validate their selections. This is problematic on a number of levels.
Reversing the order
The first problem is in reversing the order of the process. While everyone likes closure, the selection of a tool, technology or solution before investigation of the underlying problem doesn’t guarantee you’ve got the right solution. The solution chosen may be the right one, but if so don’t dress up the presentation in “innovation” clothes. You’ve simply made a management decision to select and implement a tool or technology based on gut feeling, pressure from a manager, customer or vendor, or some other reason. Choosing a new technology without understanding customer needs may lead to the right outcome, but it’s not innovation. Innovation starts by understanding evolving trends and unmet customer needs, acts of discovery, then defines potential solutions and identifies the best one based on gathered insights. This places discovery before selection, not in service of the act of validating the selection.
Innovation as a cover for decisions rather than a basis
Innovation should help create insights that lead to informed decisions, not provide a cover for decisions you planned to take anyway. There is already far too much cynicism and fear associated with implementing anything new or different. Innovation faces far too much cultural and change resistance, why create new reasons to doubt innovation and its potential outcomes? Everyone recognizes that true innovation outcomes (growth, differentiation) are important. Why water down the innovation possibilities through defining a selection of a solution or technology as innovation, rather than doing the work that’s necessary to discover whether or not the solution is the right one?
Short cuts often lead to poor outcomes
Ultimately, teams or managers that select technologies or solutions and implement them under the cover of “innovation” are taking short cuts. They are skipping over important and necessary discovery work, which speeds up the decision process and moves to implementation. But the cost of the short cut is that often a solution or technology chosen in this manner doesn’t provide the benefits customers want, and fails to deliver the benefits the firm wants. Short cuts almost always lead to solutions that are less than what was possible or achievable. Often the work of discovery isn’t expensive or time consuming. That work is rejected because of a rush to get to an answer – any answer, rather than admit that we don’t know or can’t be bothered to learn. If you are clairvoyant and know the answer in advance, you belong in Vegas. Can you and your team be humble enough to work with customers to discover needs, rather than triumphant enough to select based on your own intuition or preference?
Begin with the end in mind
Stephen Covey often talks about his seven habits, one of which is “begin with the end in mind”. What is the “end” you want? Fast completion of an activity based on the selection of a tool or technology that may or may not meet customer needs? Is the “end” implementing solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations? What are you willing to commit to achieve those benefits? Are you willing to put the act of discovery in front of the selection of a tool or technology, even if the act of discovery exposes your lack of knowledge about customer needs? Can you partake in discovery without demanding a specific tool or technology be defined as the logical outcome?
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Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of Relentless Innovation and the blog Innovate on Purpose.