When nothing in the data indicates what your future holds, you must work out what will keep your product relevant to its market. This is what innovation consulting takes care of.

Clients can be contrary. What they say they want and what they actually want aren’t always the same. Here’s an example: 

Expressed goal: Can you research markets to show us what works in other segments, that we could do in ours?

Answer: Yes.

Actual goal: Can you tell us what we should do next?

Answer: Probably – but if we do, why does your company need you?

Innovation Managers have one thing in common. You all got where you are by being the most creative of people. As soon as you got this job, though, you were asked to operate in a manner that your company could recognise as new product development, but not always as innovation.

In the past, you would have filled your diary with trips to trade shows and exhibitions – essentially shopping trips with like-minded people. You may have defined this as innovation. None of us now knows when, or even if, the next trade show will happen, and this uncertainty gives you a huge opportunity to change your approach. 

Research is only useful if you use it.

Here’s a scenario: a client asks us to research across markets and countries. We plan to work with the client to develop a ‘relevance’ rating for new ideas, so we can create a decisioning method for them – and, in the process, instil a system that makes innovation possible.

Then the client realises they have to read what we send them. What they actually want is for us to tell them what is relevant and break the insight down to a level that doesn’t require much input from them.

What’s wrong with this scenario isn’t that we are making judgements about the client’s future direction – it’s that, when they have to discuss a concept with their senior management, they won’t know enough about it to present the case effectively. Sure, they’ll understand that this idea could work, but they won’t be aware of who else is working in the space (it’s not just the usual suspects who are the most vigorous disruptors), or if the nominated concept is a good strategic fit. 

Aren’t the answers in the data?

Sometimes but, in innovation, not always.

Data is historical. It tells you what has happened. It won’t tell you what will happen, or what might happen, or what could happen with some help. Data can be extrapolated to provide a forecast that assumes circumstances don’t change.

This is the part of the equation that we insist clients take responsibility for – because things do change, and today they change more quickly and in more unexpected ways.

Avoid the allure of easy.

It’s not always easy. Showing your business some nicely visualised data about market movements will be attractive for a while. Sooner or later though, you’ll need to work out what will keep your product relevant to its market when nothing in the data matters anymore. That’s what an innovation process takes care of.

Question:

Can we research markets to show you what works in other segments that you could do in yours?

Answer: Yes.

Actual goal: Can we tell you what you should do next?

Answer: Probably – but we’d rather work together. Together, we make a fantastic team- but you must commit to a process that has a start, a middle and an end.

If your management has a history of losing patience with new initiatives, please don’t start an innovation process. It’ll end in disappointment. 

The purpose of a process is to get to the end. The end of a process is where the magic happens. It’s where we pull together all the insight gathered and create innovative opportunities. It’s where we design a rationale that your management can see potential in. It’s where all the work culminates, leading to a final strategic output with practical actions described..

Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

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