In business today, it is not enough to provide high quality products along with an excellent customer experience. Sure, those are extremely important. But the rate of change happens so quickly, that teams need to be good at finding new and better ways to serve their customers. This is not easy, especially when our human brains are wired for structure and comfort zones.
Creating a culture where teams are encouraged to find new innovative ideas and effective at testing and implementing them with customers is essential if your business is going to thrive long-term.
If this is something you struggle with in your business or team, try being intentional to implement these 5 habits.
Understand Your Customers
To just be innovative without first understanding your customers runs the high risk of churning out ideas that are “Innovation for the Sake of Innovation”. They may be “cool” or “neat” ideas, but are they products or services that anyone actually needs and sees value in?
Highly innovative teams know that understanding your customers is what allows your innovation to not just find new and better ways of doing things, but to find new and better ways of adding value for your customers. Knowing and empathizing with your customers must come first.
Imagine for a moment that you do not choose to invest in tools and strategies to gain insight into your customers. You did not analyze your data to see the trends it told you. You did not have a workable understanding of your various customer segments, personas, and their value to your business. You did not invest the time and effort to fully understand and then empathize with your most valuable customers and know what their wants and needs are. Nor did you invest the time and effort to fully understand your next level of customers and what it would take to make them more valuable to your organization. You would not truly know who your customers are, their habits, their trends, and most importantly why they buy your product or service.
If you have not put these strategies and tools in place, then where would you start with your innovation? The answer is that you would either be starting from a company/product focus or maybe even starting blind. Neither of these are a great place to begin.
Question Your Assumptions and Biases
Each person on your team is like a snowflake. We are all different in one way or another. Various personalities, communication styles, cultural beliefs, and family dynamics go into making us who we are. Some of the biggest influences that shape us and how we think and act are all of the various experiences we have had over our lifetimes.
Someone who was violently chased or even bitten by a dog at a young age is likely to have a bias against dogs, for example. A person who had happy family vacations to exotic and stimulating places as a child is likely to have a positive bias toward the need to travel and explore. The list of possible experiences we have throughout our lifetimes is endless and creates many biases, good and bad. Both as individuals and as a team.
So, what’s the problem? When it comes to innovation, we need our minds to be open to possibilities and new ideas. When we have biases, we may have a tendency to shut down ideas before they get a chance to be tested.
Highly innovative teams develop effective habits for recognizing when assumptions and biases may be holding them back and create a safe environment for questioning those beliefs. This helps to uncover the innovative gold that could be berried underneath those obstacles.
Implement Diversity and Inclusion
We hear diversity and inclusion mentioned frequently in the business world. They can easily become buzzwords. But when it comes to innovation, diversity and inclusion should be taken seriously.
Let’s start with diversity. Contrary to some people’s thinking, innovation is not a solo sport. All people deemed creative get their inspirations from many different sources. The worst thing you can do when putting together a team to solve problems, brainstorm new ideas, and be creative is to fill the room with like-minded people. The more diversity you can have, the more ideas you will come up with. The more ideas you come up with, the more exceptional ideas you will come up with.
In short, more diversity in the room leads to more and better ideas. But what does diversity look like?
Diversity should mean that different types of people in the company are included in various brainstorming sessions. Ideally you would have people from a variety of departments, management as well as front-line representation, people from different age groups, and different cultural backgrounds. Each of these people is likely going to see the problem differently. This is a good thing. You want as many different perspectives as you can, then the ideas will start to fly.
This is where inclusion comes in. If diversity can be described as being invited to the party, then inclusion can be described as being asked to dance. In other words, you can have as many different types of people and perspectives around the table as you want, but if they do not feel as if their thoughts are encouraged and valued, then you do not have inclusion. In those cases, your diversity might just be for show.
In order to really stimulate innovative discussions, highly innovative teams understand that everyone in the room should know and feel like their opinions matter.
Be Agile and Develop Prototypes, Pilots, and MVPs
“Go big or go home.” We often hear this phrase in many circles. The inference is that you should not hold back when it comes to committing to things. Put your money where your mouth is. Go all in. However, when it comes to innovation and going forward with a new idea, highly innovative teams utilize a different strategy. “Go small or not at all.”
If you have successfully implemented the first three principles of innovation, your team should be generating many exciting new ideas. The urge may be to get started as fast as you can on taking these ideas to market and begin to capitalize on them. You may be tempted to start putting together budgets and project plans and getting everyone on board with how and when to launch this new product, service, or business. However, you need to temper that excitement somewhat. The best way to find out if this is a good idea is to see how your customers react.
As a team, discuss how you can spend as little amount of time, money, and effort in order to get something in front of your customers and receive their feedback.
Get Feedback and Learn Fast
If you are to take a more agile approach to bringing your ideas to market, and you get skillful at it, you should find many benefits. However, if your main objectives are only to save time and money, then you are missing the biggest reward.
In order to consider your innovative products or services a success, you need customers to see value in these products and services. What agile prototypes, and minimum viable products (MVPs) give you is your customers’ perspective, their feedback, and their input on your ideas. How do they react to your new product or service or business idea? Is it solving their problems like you thought it would? Is it causing new problems? Are they encountering any gaps or frustrations? This information is the gold you are looking for. If you put innovation practices into place in your company, come up with several new ideas, and take your top idea and deliver a prototype to a pilot group of customers, then you have been following some sound innovation practices.
Now what happens if your prototype is met with negative feedback from your customers? Have you failed? Has your idea failed? You should only consider this a failure if you have not learned from the experience. The process is a failure only if you fall short in determining why the pilot did not resonate with your customers.
Highly innovative teams treat all customer feedback (positive and negative) as gold. Remember habit #1 of highly innovative teams? Understand your customers. This brings everything full circle.
Don’t just try to survive in today’s business landscape. Set your company up to thrive through a culture of innovation.