Who are you? What are you? Who will you be? Who do you want to be?

Every entrepreneurial advice website asks us these questions. From vegan fundamentalists thru endurance sport to straightforward start-up centric podcasts and blogs, the advice is to work out what value you are trying to deliver to your newly-described niche.

In our last blog (SMEs may need templates for innovation) we did something similar by supplying templates to capture the core purpose of your intended innovation.

Innovators may not find it hard to generate ideas, but they often struggle choosing which idea to propose as investment-worthy. Get this wrong and the result can be career-limiting in the extreme.

One of our favourite ice-breakers, when running a workshop, is to challenge teams with the attached sheet. Everyone looks uncertain when asked to describe themselves in 20 years’ time. Very few 35-year-olds can imagine themselves as 55. Or 55-year-olds as 75.

Just thinking about a teenager being an independent adult is a bit sobering for anyone whose kids are just going into senior school, for example.

Repeat the exercise, looking at 10 years’ time. 10 years isn’t long. Children going into school will be out the other end of university. Parents start to calculate how many more family holidays they can get in before university fees hit.

At five years, it’s all getting very real. That’s two phone contracts away.

How about 2½ years? Those plans you have at 20 years – you’d better be working in that direction already. Investments, property, finance succession and tax planning all hove into view a bit more sharply.

What about a year? A year is your next work incentive cycle. You’ll be on your way to another Christmas break before this year’s is even paid off.

And then of course, a month. Next month is almost 2018 anyway and heading to the financial year end that will set the trajectory for 2018/19.

At several points in this exercise, we see people understand that a forward plan anticipating certain unavoidable truths might be worth having. Not everything can be predicted, but lots can. Macro threats like the US and North Korea don’t mean as much as what we can influence ourselves.

In the context of innovation, we like this kind of directed thinking. It’s a way of juxtaposing what matters now with what may matter tomorrow or next year. We want to know, what is it that your customers will value about your product or service in the future market? Download our free guide to See Your Data Differently.

The whole answer is not simple to unpick. It takes a degree of scrutiny of available data, and for this a framework like Design Thinking is useful. Here’s what Kevin Ashton, the consumer sensor expert who coined the phrase ‘the Internet of Things’, said about innovation:

“I’d been lied to all my life: great innovation didn’t come from geniuses having moments of inspiration. It was about putting in the work; finding a way through and messing up and figuring out why you messed-up, and then trying something different. And this incremental, step-by-step approach to innovation was just how everybody else was doing it around me, too.”

The anxious innovator is most often the partially informed one. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Future thinking. Future Proofing. Innovation justified. It’s what we do.

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