Rebranding the word innovation

If you talk to companies, it seems like innovation is the main goal. But with so much focus on innovation, why don’t we have more of it?

Innovation is a word that gets thrown around a lot. If you talk to companies, it seems like innovation is the main goal. 

But with so much focus on innovation, why don’t we have more of it? 

Could it be that innovation has just become a buzzword? A word you must say to move stock price or even keep your project alive. 

When you talk with people, everything is innovation, even a claim is innovation. This doesn’t seem right; if everything is innovation, then nothing is special. 

What is innovation?

To us, innovation is all about creating better consumers. And, in the context of product development, it’s about building products that are more about the demand-side that help create better consumers. 

We, as humans, are creatures of habit. We love doing the same thing over and over again UNTIL there’s a better way or we have a problem. 

Innovation is a two-sided concept. There’s supply-side innovation, which is all about the physics or engineering behind things and then there’s demand-side. Demand-side is all about the consumer and the progress they need to make. We need to learn how to innovate to bring things into our lives. 

It’s not a predictable thing. It’s about learning and discovering; it’s a process. The process alone isn’t about how you make decisions. 

How you make decisions can be honed using the five skills required for innovation – empathetic perspective, uncovering demand, causal structures, prototyping to learn, and making trade-offs. 

Yet, innovation has so many different meanings to so many different people.

It really does depend on who you are and how you define it. 

  • If you’re on Wall Street, you define it as what people spend on R&D to get more products out there and generate more income. 
  • If you’re in product development, a lot of the time they’ll say “it’s new to the world”.
  • If you ask people in the business, they may say it’s about iteration and making the supply side better. 

As you can see, innovation is a very packed word. 

Innovation in the context of product development

When you’re discussing it in the context of product development, we think you need to consider what the JTBD of product development is. 

In our eyes it’s about making consumers better at what they are trying to get done. You have to understand both the supply side and the demand side to do that. 

Unpacking or taking the word innovation away from supply and putting it into demand helps to reground ourselves into who the customer actually is and what they are actually trying to do. 

It allows us to understand what their struggling moments are, how the customer defines success. It’s about what makes a good client or customer. 

As an organization, you need to understand what your role is in these different contexts. 

Here’s a thought. If you’re looking to develop a new ride share offering and you’re in public services, what constitutes innovation in what you suggest? 

If you know there’s demand from customers to get home to be with their family – where’s the innovation from a product perspective to help them achieve this? And how do emotional, functional and social factors play a part?

What’s the difference between innovation and invention?

Most people make the mistake of framing innovation as something new, as something unique. By doing so, they confuse innovation with invention. 

Think of the segway. It was for people who didn’t want to walk. It’s a great piece of engineering but was it created in the context of what progress people wanted to make? 

Contrast this with Birds scooters. People can pick one up anywhere in the city, get out their phone, book it, and get on with their lives. It’s all about helping consumers and society make progress. 

Innovation, to us, is about creating or evolving a new way for people to make the right progress at the right moment in time.  

Innovation only happens in the consumer’s life. That means I can hope to create something innovative but I cannot force it to be.     

We need to stop looking to create innovation in the lab and start to ask ourselves how do we create products that allow consumers to innovate?  

When consumers are seeking to solve their Jobs to be Done (JTBD) and product allows them to innovate and iterate; that is where products become icons.

Want to learn more?

Watch “Struggling is the Seed of Innovation” an interview with Bob Moesta and Nelda Studios

Sign up to the latest Learn to Build workshop to learn the skills of innovators