For the past two decades, Google, Apple, Amazon and Tesla have been building up an urge for innovation, setting the bar staggering high for large enterprises and startups alike. Consequently, consumers are getting used to being offered remarkable experiences, and they want more. It’s a welcome chain reaction.
Yet, this rapid pace enforced by the big players and the consumers’ expectations is inherently throwing companies into a risky race for innovation. A race from which, for instance, Snap Spectacles, GoPro and Juicero had to drop out and admit defeat, in spite of the tremendous hype that they initially created.
The big question is, can businesses eliminate wild guesses and minimize the risks along the way? Yes, they can. Scroll down to find out how.
What truly makes an innovative product
Innovation promises a dream of an idyllic place. I think we can all agree on that. Everyone wants to get there: consumers expect a product or service to offer them a memorable, extraordinary experience; businesses want to ensure a place in the collective memory for creating positive change, bettering people’s lives, and contributing to social progress through breakthrough products. That’s what innovation does to the world. It doesn’t make it go round. It makes it go farther. And farther. Think Elon, for example.
Innovation is also the place where a product provides relievers to big customer pains. A product experience that creates measurable gains for all its users. Businesses call it innovation, customers call it ‘Wow!’. Most attempts at innovation fail. So what you need to do is ensure that visions and expectations align. In his survival kit for business innovation, QUALITANCE Chief Innovation Officer, Mike Parsons, delivers a straightforward definition of an innovative idea, product or service, identifying it as something that:
- Is 10x times better than what is on offer today.
- Tackles huge problems.
- Offers a radical solution.
- Relies on breakthrough, emerging technology.
Now, going back to the point where you’re convinced that your product idea is amazing, hold that thought and let doubt in. Check your concept against this 4-layered idea. See where it stands with your customers, before you get too attached to it and become biased.
Your idea doesn’t live in PowerPoint. It lives in the hands of your customers.
Assuming your product idea successfully answers Parsons’s definition, you still need to validate it. Not just at team level, but with real customers too. Especially with real customers. After all, they are the ones who will make the final judgment. They will decide if your promise of innovation is likely to be an exciting reality or just a mere illusion.
And that’s one big challenge for you. Because customers are not gullible. Nor are they easily convinced. Quite the contrary. Customers will see your product as innovative only if it makes them feel the ‘Wow!’. It must be 10x times better than anything else they’ve tried before. Dyson, for example, re-invented the vacuum cleaner. But it took him five years and 5,127 prototypes tested with users to get there.
Idea validation with customers is de-risking your innovation investment. So, question your bias and assumptions as early in the process as possible. And don’t obsess over not having a finished product to do it. You don’t need it to know if you’re heading in the right direction. An idea, or even a pre-prototype, ideally designed in collaboration with real customers, will do.
Embark your customers on your innovation journey from the very beginning, and you’ll avoid the risk of self-deception. Unless you want to fall in the footsteps of Segway.
Invention versus innovation
Segway illustrates how innovation fails when the end-user is left out of the creative innovation process. They designed and developed their two-wheeled self-balancing scooter in complete secrecy, unaware of what potential customers might have to say. When trying the product, consumers felt awkward and could not figure out basic functions, because the design was not intuitive enough.
What might have been a great product turned out to be a flop. Mainly because, instead of placing the end-users at the heart of the equation, Segway removed them from it, ignoring one big truth that Charles Leadbeater advanced in his TEDtalk on the rise of amateur innovation. According to Leadbeater, a leading innovation researcher and theorist, “users are the source of big, disruptive innovations.” That’s one more reason to minimize innovation risks by validating your product idea with real customers.
Furthermore, to avoid building on wild guesses, you need to put the validation flow in place long before the development and implementation stage. More precisely, you should:
- Create a direct experience for your customers (instead of asking them to imagine things).
- Watch their reactions.
- Listen to what they say.
For each step in the idea validation flow, I recommend that you follow through with the hands-on techniques advanced in this article.
More than anyone else, real customers can help you understand if your product idea stands a chance before you get too far ahead. So, take them on your journey from the very start and consider them every step of the way. Because their feedback is key to anticipating and minimizing the risks that lie ahead.