What does innovation look like?

21 October 2013
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There is not a more popular buzzword in today’s business than “innovation.”

Every company wants more of it. Very few get it. And the few that do tend to disproportionately win in the market.

Think Apple. Think Samsung. Think Procter & Gamble. Think Lucky Strike “Click and Roll.” Think C2 iced teas from URC. All are examples of companies and brands that have made innovation and fresh, new ideas a part of their core.

Steve Jobs of Apple had it right. Controversial as always, but right: If you want true innovation, consumer research is a waste of time.  I have spent tens of millions of dollars on consumer research and I have to agree with the late Mr. Jobs. He’s right. You won’t find innovation in any research.

Why?

Because great innovation, in its simplest terms, is this: “True innovation is giving consumers something they never dreamed possible and, after conversion, are now convinced it is a product or service they cannot live without.”

So the answer is simple. If true innovation is something that a consumer can’t even imagine, how can we find this idea in consumer research or a focus group?

The fax machine wasn’t invented by a group of consumers sitting in a focus group and saying, “We wish someone would invent a device that can send pages of documents over a phone line…” Likewise, nobody told Apple to “invent a phone that can incorporate all my music, Internet browsing, camera and video, etc., and call it a ‘smartphone.’”  Nobody told the C2 team to “Blend iced tea with green apples.” All of these innovations started with pure creativity. Ideas. Dreaming what is possible. And then using research to validate the ideas, test them after discovery. But research played no role in the idea generation. And this is where most companies fall. — just getting an innovation on the table to begin with.

I have found that walking around shops and viewing the innovations of others can help me drive innovation in my own organizations. It is key to have an inherent curiosity about the world around us. See what others are doing. And when you open your eyes, you can see wonderful innovations all around us. Things we as consumers may “never have thought of” are now things we “cannot live without.”

Just the other day, I tried my first cronut. A cronut is a blend between a croissant and a donut. Now, I love croissants and I love donuts. But I have to admit, in my 50 years I have never thought about blending the two. But some creative soul did. And I have to say Cronuts are amazingly good. Superb. I don’t know now if I can go back to a plain old donut or croissant. The cronut is so much better! This is innovation: giving a consumer something we never imagined, but now consider a part of life.  I am now a cronut lover. I am converted.

Likewise, like nearly all of us, I carry a smartphone. Two of them, in fact. I have come to “accept” as a part of life that my smartphone batteries will deplete quickly and there are times and places where I cannot get to a charger and recharge. This is just the way it goes.  It’s accepted as part of the risks of having a smartphone.

But then I am walking through S&R and I see a sexy little device called JuiceBoxx (available in Puregold stores as well). It’s a portable charger for smartphones and iPads. It can give up to three full charges to my phones, and best of all, it recharges itself by solar power! So I am intrigued and I buy one for a very reasonable price of P1,899 (there is a base unit also available for P899). I have had missed calls and dead batteries cost me many multiples more than P1,899! I have been using JuiceBoxx for several weeks now, and I cannot live without it. I charge my phones, and when in meetings I leave my JuiceBoxx by the window in my office, recharging in the sunlight. When I need it, it is always ready to give either of my phones a recharge. I haven’t had no “low battery” now for weeks and I don’t worry anymore about running out of juice when I am remote in a palengke and can’t access a charger. I carry my JuiceBoxx with my phones. So simple, yet so innovative, because it addresses a need I did not even know I had.

I guess that, in essence, is innovation, — filling a need that the consumer did not even know he had. When you do that, you are onto something big!

As I sit here writing this article, eating my cronut and recharging my phone with a JuiceBoxx, all I can say is, “Isn’t innovation grand?”

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