The innovation process dismantled (part 1)

Phase one - Finding and understanding change

Most known innovation process models tend to start with the emergence of new ideas. I would like to reject that notion. Ideas do not crystallize out of thin air, they emerge from the presence of an unfolding need. But it is actually somewhat more complicated than that. Let me elaborate.

Change is the key driver for change

New needs appear as things in people´s surrounding environment change. Things may change in large waves, such as the effects of the Internet, or in smaller waves, such as the invention of a faster CPU model for computers. But regardless of general impact, these changes will influence the way we interact with our existing surrounding world, thus having consequences on the solutions we currently use to conduct our work. And change is not an idle factor, change itself is continuous and hard to predict. But in order to manage these everlasting waves of change we need to embrace the fact that change is inevitable and find ways to recognize, analyze, interpret and utilize it to our advantage. We’ll take look at how that can be done.

Change comes in many forms

Change is not just happening as you read this. Change has been happening since the beginning of time and the historic patterns of change are continuously catching up with us with aggregated synergetic effects. Change that has been going on for decades have lead up to changes that we are seeing today, so we cannot just observe current change, we need to be able to detect overall change patterns. And even more importantly, to innovate we must recognize and distinguish future change. And since historic change influences current change and current change influences future change they are all incorporated.

Change sparks the innovation process

So in what sense does change become so important that it is said to initiate the innovation process? Change leads to new challenges for people and this is where it all begins. This is how the logic flows; when change happens in the world it will in most instances affect the way certain things work, leading to challenges for how to manage the job-to-be-done in this new context. These challenges create a demand for new consequential change, what we tend to call a need. Needs call for new solutions, and for these solutions to be safeguarded from future change, they should also be innovative. For example, when the presence of computers arose, writing documents on typewriters, or by hand, became obsolete and new needs for computerized work appeared. So needs have to take into consideration both current and future change, and that is where foresight, forecasting and predictive thinking come into play. ”The presence of incomplete information and thus uncertainty leads to the absence of perfect foresight, which in turn aggravates the probability of entry and the probability of survival” (Van Der Zwan, 2011).

The challenges and needs phase

As you have now started to understand, an idea is never the first spark of an innovation project. It may be, if you have not working systematically with innovation and prefer to be depending on luck. But for the rest of us, preparing for creating innovative ideas demands a lot of hard work and comes with structured preparation. So when we understand the changes taking place in the world we can understand the challenges people are facing, and then we can understand their challenges we can understand their actual needs. And when we understand why and how they have certain needs, it becomes easy to come up with brilliant new innovative ideas.

I will shortly describe the process of getting through this first phase.

1. Detecting change
Change happens all the time and in various formats and sizes. We need to pinpoint those that are relevant to the field we are focusing on, but not only directly, also indirectly. And those can often be hard to perceive. Spotting trends is usually divided into three dimensions based on magnitude.

  • Megatrends. Megatrends are significant, long-term and global changes to society and consumption.
  • Market trends. Market trends are tendencies in markets to move in a certain direction over a mid-term period of time.
  • Microtrends. Microtrends in this context are small fluctuations in technology and behavior that happens in the near proximity or within an organization.

There are multiple methods to collect and analyze data on the different types of trends. You can use tools such as social media analytics, technology trend monitoring, market research, etc. Ensure you have established a few and have them mutually coordinated.

2. Detecting challenges
Not all change will affect us, so we need to map out what changes that will and in what ways. A change will only be classified as a challenge if it has a clear impact on our business. Traditional methods to use to indicate impacts on our business are i.e. PESTEL analysis for external mapping and POLISM analysis for internal mapping. And to fully grasp the logic between changes and challenges it is recommended to use consequence modelling with event tree analysis (ETA) techniques to visualize the relationship between events and resulting impacts.

3. Detecting needs
Understanding how needs relate to challenges can be complicated. But once you have started to see the challenges, the areas of needs become much clearer. Then to truly understand people’s needs you have to understand people, which requires insights. And more than often insights does not come from what people say that they want, but from how you can figure out what they really want. It becomes important to understand the job-to-be-done that induces the need. A great way to clarify how people wish to interact with a plausible solution is by displaying and visualizing the user experience through customer journey mapping methods, but you can also use tools such as target group interviews, diary studies or root cause analysis methods.

When you have detected how your challenges relate to your target group’s needs you will have a much better picture of what the possible innovative solutions may look like. As Albert Einstein put it: “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions”. Because once you have true insights into the reasons for certain needs, drafting new innovations becomes a breeze. That is why I am claiming that this first phase of the innovation process is extremely crucial to qualifiy innovation outcomes. Innovations do not originate from ideas, they evolve from unfolding needs.

Read part 2

Van der Zwan, Peter (2011). The Entrepreneurial Process: An International Analysis of Entry and Exit. Doctoral thesis at Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.