Preparing Your 2018 Innovation Plan*

*Originally published by Rene Polin on LinkedIn January 25, 2018

The ‘I’ word gets thrown around so often and so casually that it’s sometimes relegated to a mere buzzword. The problem isn’t with the word being over-used, but rather with the fact that most business professionals don’t have a process to establish an effective culture of innovation, and the word is misunderstood.

It’s well known that implementing a focused innovation plan into your business helps lead to success because trying to be all things to all people translates into doing nothing well. At Balance Innovation & Design, we find that taking the time to systematically identify gaps in user needs and the products and services currently offered to those users, helps create actionable ideas that can be brought to market quickly and effectively. But how do you get to that elusive space where customers are thirsty for your offerings? That’s where we can help.

Below are five important considerations in creating a focused innovation plan:

1) Separate but Not Equal: If innovation is everyone’s job, then it ends up being nobody’s job. The most successful innovation departments and groups are run by one individual – ideally from outside the organization – whose main goal is to focus on the company’s innovation strategy and activities. While the overall culture of an organization may be ‘innovative’, separating these business units and practices is the best policy to avoid confusion and build accountability – ultimately allowing everyone to do his/her job exceptionally well.

2) Simplify: Don’t overcomplicate things. Get to the heart of the opportunity and realize that not all innovations need to be earth-shattering new breakthroughs. Good research may uncover some impactful quick-hitters that you can bring to market almost immediately. You may even find out that you’re already doing something incredibly well in the marketplace that you’re not getting credit for - claim that success! Don’t let future uncertainty overwhelm you because even a few small wins can help build your creative confidence and cement your will to go further.

3) Focused Ideation: Create guardrails based on end-user research and business goals, and always point ideation and work back to that research (have a reason for everything you do). Make certain you’re not trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Random ideation and bad brainstorming without well-planned parameters leads to confusion, and invariably, a wall full of ideas that will go nowhere.

4) End-Users Rule: Let your end-users and customers lead you to the open innovation spaces during observational work. Your research plan should be built to allow them to guide you to unspoken needs rather than to have them answer only prepared questions. Keen observers such as seasoned user experience and product designers can read between the lines and take notice of psychological and body language cues to help embody the voice of the end-user in future concept development - and ultimately create meaningful products. Remember to be pragmatic in your approach because, more often than not, you are not the end-user.

5) Don’t Just Talk About it – Take Action! Build it, test it, ‘MVP’-it… Don’t be afraid to prototype concepts and get them in front of those who matter – your end-users and customers. Somewhere between paper prototypes and fully functioning models is the sweet spot to get hands-on experience, validation, and feedback that will help refine your idea. You will learn more than you think.

There’s no time to waste. You can get yourself unstuck and focused on actionable innovation that can have a dramatic effect on your business’ revenue.

For more information on building a culture of innovation and finding your design focus, be sure to stay tuned to our upcoming newsletters and articles, as we’ll be regularly sharing tips. To learn more about our Balanced Innovation Process, or to contact one of our innovation and design specialists, visit us at: www.balanceinc.com or email us at: info@balanceinc.com

Now, go forth and innovate!