One Friday, a Google engineer, stymied by a complex problem, posted the details on the ideas board in the hallway at their headquarters. On Friday evening, a few engineers hanging around at headquarters without plans started working on an algorithm to solve the problem posted on the board earlier that day. The issue was solved by Tuesday.
This is the power of the hallway conversation ramped up a few notches, and is a source of ongoing creativity at Google, a company that could easily be too big for innovation. Simply, Susan Wojcicki, Google’s Senior Vice President of Advertising, says she looks everywhere for innovation and ideas.
The key to innovation is new data, new information, according to Cathy Renault, trained in Innovation Engineering. Four categories of new stimulus for new ideas are technology, the market, insights through Voice of the Customer and the future trends. Technology data can come from patents, inventors, vendors and more. Market data is found in benchmarking, borrowing briliance from other industries as well as the tried and true SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis.
To develop ideas to grow the business it is important to understand customer needs and unmet needs before developing lots of new ideas. Then the ideas that are developed will focus on solutions that to generate value for customers – the winning ideas.
Stage-Gate International and the Product Development Institute looked at the most effective ideation methods versus the most popular. They found Voice of the Customer (VOC) methods were the five most effective of the 18 studied. However, not all were popular. Ethnography was found to be the most effective, but is not popular, likely as it requires camping out at the customer for extended periods of time, as well as people trained in cultural anthropology. Three other VOC tools are both effective and popular: customer visit teams; customer focus groups for problem detection; lead user analysis, or working with the most innovative customers. The fifth most effective, customer or user aided design, has not caught on in popularity.
The Harvard Business Review, in discussing New Patterns of Innovation, sees three sources of innovation: competency-based, customer-focused, and changes in the business environment. However, it recommends a fourth – creating value for customers using the data and analytic tools available. This can be generating data of use to customers, digitizing assets and more.
In the end, innovation is making connections and even combining opposing ideas. Smashing magazine notes the invention of the Burkini, a combination of the Burga worn by Muslim women and the bathing suit – which is innovative, but not necessarily spawned from a market need or cultural awareness. To this end, a future blog will discuss how to select the best ideas.
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