The New Method for Innovating: Insights

In today's fast paced world, technologies are advancing faster than ever before. Due to this rapid development of technologies, it becomes even more important than ever that we find the right problems to solve, so we are not wasting our time trying to solve problems that don't need to be solved or have already been solved. The very best ideas are usually universal in nature, and these unique solutions normally effect the global community in big ways. So what are those big Insights, and where do they usually come from?

Richard Trenchard wrote a great post titled How to come up with a business idea with global appeal, and this piece had some great common sense concepts. Trenchard goes on to tell us that the very best “no-brainer ideas” almost always start with “Why didn't I think of that?”. Furthermore, Mr. Trenchard tells us that these “no-brainer ideas” follow one or more of three basic principles. These fundamental truths are supply and demand, solving an existing problem, and or predicting trends before they occur. The post goes into more information around these three basic principles, and I recommend everyone check it out for more details.

In almost all great insights, the spark for the great idea is usually some kind of new “surprise” around what has just been learned while analyzing a problem. In the book The Innovator's DNA, the authors explain how the best innovators uncover these surprises to generate new understandings. The most talented innovators use associational thinking to help develop the best insights. In a nutshell, associational thinking involves the ability to connect seemingly unrelated information or ideas and put them together in new ways. Using the key behaviors of questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting, true innovators are able to use associational thinking to come up with the big insights.

Great insights come from great questioning. “Why” and “why not” questions should be used to constantly challenge the status quo. Great innovators also ask “what if” questions to help see a different and hopefully better future. The importance of asking the “right” questions shouldn't be underestimated. An excellent book titled A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger was written on the whole premise of using the power of good questioning to help come up with those breakthrough insights in business, innovation, and life. As Berger researched the subject of questioning, he found that although almost everyone agreed that questioning and innovation go hand in hand, few companies or individuals actually made questioning a priority. The truth is, this concept of asking the right questions is so important, all of us should do whatever we can to become better questioners. I plan to dig into this subject further in later post, but I encourage everyone to checkout A More Beautiful Question and any other resource to help them get good at inquiry.

Along with using the power of good questions, the best innovators use the art of observing their environments to help them develop insights and unique new ways of doing things. To do this right, we need to get out of the office and into the field. We need to act like we are anthropologist digging into our surroundings to try and uncover some new currently unseen insights into our customers, competitor products and services, and processes that might be performed in a better and more efficient manner. Sometimes what we think is the truth, may not always be what we expected. Good observations help us to obtain more accurate realities, and with that knowledge, we can then develop those big game changing insights.

Another key behavior is the ability to network with people to help us understand their issues and get good feedback on the problems they are facing. Many of the best innovators actually interface with numerous people who in most instances, don't look, act, or (most importantly) think as they do. When we interact with those who are different than us, it helps us achieve more ways of looking at a problem. Many times we may think we have come up with the best solution to a problem, but when we talk to potential customers, we find that our solution is not going to actually meet their particular situation. Dumping tons of time into trying to solve a problem that doesn't truly meet the needs of most people is just a waste of time and resources.

Along with the three key actions of questioning, observing, and networking, the need for proper experimentation is vital for generating the best insight for a problem. True innovators are constantly trying out new experiments to ensure they are looking at a problem properly. The best innovators are always taking apart products and processes to see how they work, and to see if there is any way to improve them. To help in the experimentation process, many times, innovators will rapidly build prototypes to test their assumptions, and adjust these prototypes as needed. These initial prototypes, many times become the starting point for MVPs (minimum viable prototypes).

Armed with some good Insights into a customer's problem, the next step in the innovation method is to start really exploring the Problem to ensure that the issue is in fact a viable problem that really needs to be solved. Lets take a deeper look at the Problem phase in a future post. Would love to hear the thoughts from others on this post, so please give us your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.