02 Dec Our Approach to Innovation Has Gone Seriously Wrong
Innovation is one way businesses try to stay competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace.
The core of product innovation is meeting customers’ needs in a fresh and original way, but it doesn’t always work out when enterprises of all sizes attempt innovation.
The same is true for the way we teach people to start new businesses and bring new products to market.
A very common mistake is made when starting a new business, launching a new product, or improving an existing one. It is spending more time working on your plan in a vacuum, than testing it to meet your customer’s needs.
Investing more time in experimentation rather than in planning in an isolated environment is, unfortunately, still not the norm.
So it seems that the traditional approach to innovation in business doesn’t do the trick anymore. Why is that so?
Let’s start from the beginning and think about how we teach innovation these days.
Are we Teaching Innovators the Wrong Thing?
All the most popular MBA (Master of Business Administration) programs are teaching new leaders how to craft and create a good business strategy. Without any doubt, it enables every professional to make a flawless business plan for any upcoming idea.
But is a flawless business plan, thoughtfully prepared for months and months, enough for the next big thing?
When it comes to starting a new business, these are the essentials we are teaching:
1. Come up with an idea
2. Write a business plan
3. Raise investment
4. Launch product
5. Sell to customers
Unfortunately, the customers might not come running to buy your product. And you will get stuck thinking about what went wrong.
At this point, it’s easy to say that you’ve probably built doomed products in a vacuum.
The Marshmallow Challenge
The Marshmallow challenge is a perfect example of how an MBA mindset doesn’t necessarily generate the best solution for your business.
What is the marshmallow challenge?
The teams are to build the tallest freestanding structure they can by using the resources provided. The marshmallow has to go on top.
What are the resources provided?
✅ 20 sticks of spaghetti
✅ adhesive tape
✅ 1 marshmallow
The time limit for the challenge?
Who is taking the challenge?
Different kinds of groups: engineers, architects, business executives, business school graduates, and kindergarteners.
Who is always doing worse than any other group?
Completely missed allocation of time.
One-third of the time is spent on planning how to build. Instead of playing with various plans, they end up with only one plan. Too little time is left to experiment and build several different structures.
Finally, they are in a hurry to finish their single plan, and the structure collapses.
Who is doing better than other groups?
They don’t plan at all. Instead, they play and build multiple designs. They learn from failure and collapsed towers, and they keep improving new structures.
What can we learn from this simple design exercise?
This elementary exercise gives us valuable and useful lessons about creative thinking, planning, execution, and team collaboration for any development process.
By simply getting started and focusing on iterating the process, we can implement what works and quickly discard what doesn’t. This approach ensures that the marshmallow sits firmly on top when we reach the end of the challenge.
Now, let’s apply these learnings to the world of business.
Explore, Experiment, Test, and Apply
One of the common mistakes for entrepreneurs or innovators is spending most of the time writing a business plan.
It can easily lead you to make plans in a vacuum. If you stay too long in that vacuum, you have more chances to fail.
What can you do better?
☝️ Make use of prototyping: Make a prototype and test how users engage with the prototype of a feature/product you are planning to build.
☝️ Gather user feedback and learn from your prototypes: Find out if your product or service meets your user’s expectations and learn from mistakes.
☝️ Overcome the fear of failure: Take the leap of faith and put your idea out in the open.
☝️ Innovation by learning from mistakes: Empower employees and drive innovation by accepting not only success but also failure as a total learning experience.
Let’s take a closer look at what this all means and how this could be applied in practice:
1 – Make use of prototyping
When prototyping, choose one chunk of your business idea or any other core functionality and test it out there with your users.
This approach will help you solve smaller problems and challenges instead of running the risk of being stuck with one large problem.
In the early stage of your project, you should make simple and low-budget prototypes. It should take a small amount of time and money to create them. However, it should provide you with useful data from a user.
At the later stage of the project, you can upgrade your prototype. Look for more detailed answers from your user and focus on specific features.
Let’s take, for instance, that you are developing an app for fitness and exercise routines.
You will probably start with a question like, “do my users enjoy exercising in an energetic and competing manner?”. Later on, you may create a refined prototype. In this stage, you want to learn if a user prefers a video tutorial or voice-guided instruction.
A landing page for your business is another great example of smart prototyping. Start with basic information about your business and try to sell one product at a certain price.
Don’t overthink the prototype stage. Just start building. Use anything that will get you going. Yes, even sticky notes.
Actually, a storyboard of sticky notes can make a perfect starting point to create a prototype for your user. Walk your users through a scenario for your idea using a prototype based on your storyboard and see how they will react.
2 – Gather user feedback and learn from your prototypes
After the first interactions of users with your prototypes, you might find out that they don’t respond the way you expected.
At this point, reflect on your original idea with the results of the usability test. Improve it, change it and make it better.
Test your ideas and play around with them. And never leave your user out of sight.
That’s why collecting user feedback is critical to business success. By gathering and evaluating user feedback, you can take a step back and see your product in a new light.
This can help you understand what users think and feel when they use your product, empathize with their experience, and provide actionable insights into what works well and what doesn’t.
Probably there is not just one right path for your business idea. The more possibilities you explore, the more ways to succeed you will find.
3 – Overcome the fear of failure
New business failure statistics can be intimidating for first-time entrepreneurs. In this linked article (and many more), you can even find the Top Ten Startup Fails Statistics. But instead of dwelling on the unfavorable statistics for a business newbie, let’s think about how to avoid a possible failure.
Every good strategy for starting a business begins with a good business plan. However, due to the fear of failure, writing a good business plan can take up most of your time before you launch your business.
How about a slightly different approach that still includes a good business plan?
While creating your pitch-perfect business plan, don’t forget to:
You need some proof from the real world that your plan will work out. Staying in the safety zone of just planning doesn’t give you valuable insights into realistic situations.
You could start by offering one service or bits of your entire product before launching the whole package in the form of a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is a basic version of an application with a minimum set of core features that solves the user’s need and thus delivers value to early adopters.
With an MVP, you can have your key end users test the product, get their feedback, and find out if it has the potential to be successful before building the full version.
As you can see, making a little shift in time management could make a big difference. Take some time from business planning and invest it in business idea testing.
Even though it seems brilliant and does wonders on paper, what do users think of your business idea?
Remember, any rock-solid business plan is just a starting line. As soon as it enters the real world, it will require adjustments.
4 – Innovation by learning from mistakes
Forget the mistake and remember the lessons. — Roald Dahl
The innovators do their best when running into a bump on the road. They don’t dread a possible failure, they don’t give up, and they always seek a new approach to the problem.
Every mistake you make on the way is an opportunity to learn from it. Everything you have learned, you can use to develop a better product.
Learning from everything we have done wrong is what makes us better innovators and entrepreneurs. Just remember those kindergarteners from the marshmallow challenge.
If we start teaching innovators how to learn from failure, it could be a good starting point.
The development of a new product or a new service thrives on innovation. But the teaching methods today don’t instruct the innovators and MBA graduates how to become problem solvers instead of planners.
If you choose to lean on the facts gathered from prototyping and user testing, rather than fiction and aspirations, you have more chance to succeed.
Searching for facts will make it easier to identify new opportunities and develop improved versions of your products.
We need to teach entrepreneurs to explore and consider various solutions. There is not one right path for a business idea.
Diana Kander made a perfect punch line in her insightful presentation on generally wrong approaches to innovation. She quoted the famous boxer, Michael Tyson:
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. — Mike Tyson
Follow your plan, but dodge punches in the face by taking enough time for prototyping and testing.
A new business that has a chance for success is the one listening to the user’s needs based on the facts gathered in the real world.
Searching for Innovative Ideas?
Are you looking for innovative ideas that work best for your business model? What ideas could work best for you and your users?
You can easily start by defining what innovation means to your business.
You can think about what exactly you are improving, creating, or developing. And then, you will easily define the type of innovation your company needs. It doesn’t necessarily mean developing a completely new business model. Innovation can be a simple upgrade to a service or a product.
You might consider running an innovation workshop as a next step. Most people will contact an professional facilitator to help them create, organize and lead their workshop.
If your organization doesn’t have an in-house innovation team to run workshops, consider hiring a studio like Design Sprints Studio to help shape your innovation workshop.
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