If you are an innovator, there are eight questions you must ask to ensure you get the innovation success you need:

  1. What outcome do you need?
  2. Who are you innovating for?
  3. What is their world?
  4. What’s their underserved and important need?
  5. Where are they?
  6. What’s your bias?
  7. Are you prepared for an unexpected journey?
  8. How are you looking after yourself?

Each question brings sharp focus on what you are doing, reducing the risk of getting carried away by emotions. You should be passionate about your idea, you’ll need it to keep you going through the harder times, but that same passion can cause you to have blind spots. So let’s take a deeper look at these eight questions.

1. What outcome do you need?
“We just need ideas!” Really, why? Because everyone else has more ideas than us and we’re falling behind. Innovation is not an ideas competition, and just because someone has a lot of ideas, it doesn’t mean that they will be successful. Random ideas have never helped anyone.

Work out what you need to happen, the end result, the outcome. If what you are currently doing will not meet that target, then something different is needed. That difference is innovation. Innovation is an enabler, not an outcome; successful innovation should always deliver impact and value.

I’ve seen it so many times when people just start an ideation activity without really knowing what they want. “Hey let’s have a hackathon,” ok great, but do you know what success looks like? If you don’t, it can get you into a whole heap of trouble. Slow down. Be clear on what a successful outcome is so that everyone who gets involved is clear on the direction.

2. Who are you innovating for?
Do you actually know who you are innovating for? The end user may not be the buyer. Start getting to know who is involved and who you need to consider.

Build up a picture of who they are. Don’t outsource this to someone else, because you need to know these people better than anyone else. Make them come alive. Create personas but test that they are realistic. This will enable your team to align on who they need to care about. You can’t skip this part; it’s vital.

Oh, and you will be wrong, but you need to start with something. Be ready to iterate, iterate, iterate…

3. What is their world?
Once you have an idea of who, now you need to know what is their world? What’s happening in it? What are their goals, their pains, their frustrations? Don’t make assumptions here, find the user type and speak to them.

Find out what their needs are and why they have them. That’s actually quite easy, the hard part is coming up, and it’s crucial…

4. What’s their underserved and important need?
As warned, finding out needs is easy-ish. The hard part is working out what need you should focus on. You are trying to work out your opportunity space; the space where should you play.

You need to categorise the users needs. The Lean Startup Playbook, outlines a great way to identify what needs to focus on.

You need to find out what needs the user classes as important. These are needs that have big implications if they are not met? For each important need, find out which needs are currently met well and which are poorly met, in other words, are underserved. You need to focus on the needs that are important and underserved.

5. Where are they?
It’s unlikely that you are working with the users you need to attract. You need to expand your perspective and get out of the building. Innovators cannot spend all their time in the office or garage, you have to meet real people.

I often have to force my clients to meet their potential users, because they want to wait until they have built something to show them. Guess what, until you have met them you are wasting your time building anything. Sure, have ideas, but don’t create anything. Survey, interview, observe; go where they are and get the data you need

The first time you go in front of users, it is scary and uncomfortable. I find talking to complete strangers hard, but the more I do it, the easier it becomes.

6. What’s your bias?

“Stay in the doubt longer”  –  Adam Steltzner
NASA Chief Engineer for Mars 2020 Project

So admit it, you think you have a brilliant idea. That’s going to be your downfall. You are already biased and have fallen in love with your solution.

“Stay in the doubt longer” says Adam Steltzner, NASA Chief Engineer for Mars 2020 Project. Don’t go with your first idea, force yourself to keep iterating, looking for improvement and better fit with key needs.

When you tell people about your idea, invite feedback. Now that’s going to be hard, because you’re going to be a bit precious with your idea, and someone is going to “insult” it by picking holes. As hard as it is, keep an open mind. Find out “why” rather than arguing to be right.

Warning, people are normally nice, so like to please. Ask people if they like your idea, they will probably say yes. This is not helpful. What you need is truthful feedback to get validation, and you only get that from people with commitment.

For example, if you told your family about your brand new business idea, they’ll most likely say it’s great because they love you! Yes that’s nice, but it’s not particularly useful. If you then asked each family member to invest £1,000 in your idea, you’d find out what they really thought of it. To get really useful feedback, ask people who don’t know you or you don’t get on with.

It’s so easy to lead the witness. When you speak to potential customers, work out your questions in advance, script it. You need a consistent, planned approach to keep you on track and remove tangents. Don’t just jam and make it up.

Lastly, don’t be afraid of the uncomfortable silence when talking to users. Don’t answer your own questions or give options for users choose from. Learn to listen instead of talking. The more passionate you are about your idea, the harder this will be. Listen and ask why; if you don’t understand an answer, dig deeper; this is how you unearth innovation treasure!

7. Are you prepared for an unexpected journey?
Innovation is an iterative journey. It is not linear, it is not smooth, it is not straightforward. If it was easy, someone else would have already done it.

Be ready to deal with ambiguity, unknowns, dead-ends, loops. Basically, expected the unexpected!

If you don’t pivot, i.e., change direction, I would suggest you are ignoring your findings. You never get a perfect solution first time. Did you know YouTube started off as a dating website? The dating part wasn’t good, but people used it to share videos. The pivot took place and look where they are now.

Innovation is like walking in a fog. How do you behave in a fog? You go slowly, taking one step at a time. If you are with a group, communication is key to ensure you all walk in the same direction and nobody falls off a cliff.

“Innovation is an argument with the current business model,” so don’t be surprised at what is thrown at you. Despite your best intentions, some people will not want you to succeed. You are messing with people’s worlds, and you’ll get a reaction. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

8. How are you looking after yourself?
Finally, how are you doing? This innovation gig is hard. Being in constant change mode can be draining. You need to be resilient. But what does this actually mean?

Work out how to look after yourself, make it personal. Do you know how you recover and recharge? Please, please don’t ignore yourself in the excitement of the innovation journey.

I’ve seen burnout happen too many times, innovation can be hard and lonely. Find friends, meditate, create a supportive network who get you and will support you. Find your tribe…

Innovation is a roller coaster, it has superb highs when you are frantically busy and working in completely unknown world, and so when the rest comes, take it, you’ll need it.

If you ask yourself these eight questions, I will guarantee that it will increase your innovation success. Good luck!

 

Image credits: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash. Photo by Juliana Kozoski on Unsplash