Technology is evolving very quickly, and it can often get our minds racing. “What could I accomplish with machine learning, IoT, or virtual reality? These technologies stand to revolutionize my industry,” we think. And often we’re right – these emerging technologies are causing enormous amounts of disruption just about everywhere, so having an innovation strategy is critically important. However, that same thought process can easily cause our innovation strategy to go wrong. The focus of good innovation should be solving real problems, instead of focusing on trying to fit emerging technology into consumer products or business processes.
Executives and other management can easily confuse technology for strategy (“Our competitors are using VR, we should too!”). What often results from such thinking is technology for the sake of technology – strategies and implementations that don’t add real value. It’s the same as making a shiny new hammer when you have no nails to hit. The problem is that when we start with a solution first, we’re forced to work backwards to try to find a problem that fits. The result of that approach is often times a product that is not valuable (check out the Vessyl IoT cup as a representative example), which inevitably means the project fails to generate an ROI.
So what is the right approach? A key component of successful innovation is to focus on defining the problem before identifying a solution. That is, identify where you have the potential to add value first, then structure your innovation around those areas. Sometimes you’ll even find that the best solutions are the simplest, and that looking to bleeding edge technology might not even be the right way to add the most value.
This concept of focusing on identifying a problem before crafting a solution is a key component of what’s called design thinking. Design thinking is a methodology for helping structure your innovation. There are 5 stages commonly identified in design thinking:
- Empathize – Understand the human element. What are your customers or users saying, thinking, feeling, and doing?
- Define – Define your problem statements. Problem statements can focus on fixing things that are bad, amplifying things that are good, challenging core assumptions about the problem, etc.
- Ideate – Use creativity and brainstorm solutions to the problem. Emerging technology can certainly factor in here.
- Prototype – Try your ideas! Build quick prototypes and see how they actually work. Remember to adopt the concept of “fail fast” to realize the best solutions quickly.
- Test – Let the users see what you’ve done, and validate that the solution is truly impactful to them.
The result of design thinking is products that your customers or users actually want to use. Isn’t that the point of innovating in the first place?
Learn more about design thinking from the Interaction Design Foundation.
About Michael Pumper
Mike Pumper is a senior consultant at Sogeti since 2011. Through working with clients, Mike has gained experience in a variety of topics at many levels of expertise. He started his career at Baxter Healthcare as a Java / Spring developer, working closely with the business to develop a portal application. Mike started at National Merit Scholarship Corporation late in 2011 as a technical lead and solution architect, overseeing a small team that created a critical internal Java / Spring application that is still in use by the business today.
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