3 Tips on How to Innovate

What is the trick to unlocking new opportunities?

We cannot solve a problem by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

[A. Einstein]

In order to make it out there today in this fast paced economy, businesses and individuals need to continuously challenge the norm.  This drives development of innovations that uncover new markets or provide additional value to consumers.

My experiences at work have taught me a thing or two on how to dig a bit deeper and produce products/ideas with intrinsic value. There is a sort of ‘toolkit’ for innovating. Attention learned this lesson long before I did, and has been developing and testing, and teaching various innovation tools during our different projects.

Without revealing everything about Attention’s Innovation tool kit, here are three key innovation lessons that I have learned:

Listen to the user. Watch the user. Question the user. Examine feedback critically.

It is always important to listen to the users of the product/service because they understand the problem better than anyone else. Get to know them and the problem as intimately as possible but keep in mind that they do not always have the best solution. It is therefore, extremely important to involve the user in the whole development process, and critically examine their feedback. Also, involve stakeholders whenever possible, because they can help to reveal problems/opportunities that otherwise would have been missed.

InvolvetheUser

There are many strategies for involving and questioning the user, to extract information that can help during the innovation process. As an example, Attention was working with a client to develop a control interface. There was a preconceived notion from the selected user panel that a right-hand joystick was the best and only way to control the system. The users, therefore, expected this in the final solution, which put limits on the design possibilities. Attention involved the users in an activity that was only slightly related to the control interface, which played on different joystick locations and input device types. The result was an analysis that showed very little difference in control performance between the various controllers. In addition, it opened up the eyes of the user panel in terms of the design and control possibilities beyond their preconceived solution. I think this is a great example of breaking-free of the ‘norms’ when creating a new product, and really helped me to understand the value in questioning everything (especially the user and any preconceived solutions) during the design process.

Combine people. Combine Ideas.  

Although I used to believe this as a child (and on some days this belief unfortunately resurfaces); it is impossible to know everything. For that reason, it is extremely valuable to involve individuals from various disciplines when developing and idea/product/service. New perspectives on a problem emerge when individuals with a mixture of backgrounds unite over a common goal. Great things can happen when you combine people, products, and ideas.

OfficeSupplies

As an engineering student, I was taught a similar message (although more along the lines of combining business and engineering rather than a total cross-discipline approach). When exploring opportunities in the workforce, however, I soon realized that many companies still keep their workplace segregated in terms of the design, marketing, finance, engineering, etc.. Yes, they do collaborate at key points in a project, but what if the engineer had been better informed or more involved in the development of the marketing strategy? Or if the designer had known that they could push the boundary on the shape of a specific part because the internal components could be re-arranged? Could the result have been different? The open-office trend highlights attempts made by many companies to encourage this cross-disciplinary collaboration, and also proves my point in the sense that research has shown that this type of collaboration really works.

Again, an example from Attention; we pride ourselves in being a cross-disciplinary workplace and work hard to maintain that claim. I have experienced multiple times at the office that working hand-in-hand with designers and out production team produces an end-result that pushes boundaries. It also has taught me a handful about things that I never would have found out if I only hung out with engineers (no offense to any engineers reading this…).

Build. Test. Repeat.  

The best way to explain an idea or concept is turn it into something tangible. This could mean a hand-sketch, 3D print, computer simulation, or something built from office supplies, which resembles your 5th grade science fair project. A great prototype allows the creator to share their vision, and enables others to experience the design; experiment with it, play with it, test it. It is a generative process, and usually results in new ideas/iterations being developed (we very often have building supplies on the table during a brainstorm session).

Lego

Compared with product specifications or business plans, prototypes provide tangible experiences and a more concrete representation of the product/system. They also serve as an excellent tool to reduce misinterpretation and get the whole team on the same page. I love when I am in a meeting and someone starts folding something out of paper, writing on the glass walls, or making something out of whatever is available to help to make their idea understood.

Good prototypes are also a great way to save time and money during development by validating the concept. Businesses can realize a flexible business model and change direction as needed, depending on market feedback.

The biggest risk in innovation lies in sticking too closely to your plans.

[D. Hills, Walt Disney Company]

I hope you found these lessons interesting and useful, and can use them in one form or another to help improve your level of innovation. In the next post, I will bring up some fun facts regarding important historical inventions that transformed society!

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