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Articles filed in: Innovation
Do you see all those people who whipping their smartphones out as soon as they get on the train or stand in a queue? They’re not just avoiding boredom, they’re searching—but not only for information, or laughs, or updates. They are searching for a feeling of connection.
We want places to go and places to be. Places to kill time and places that make us feel a little less lonely in the moment. Places to learn. Places to share. Places that make us feel safe, or smart, or welcomed, or funny, or hopeful for the future. But most of all, we want places to belong and places where we feel like we matter.
Those places used to be our family homes, our dinner tables at 6 pm, or football games with friends on Saturday afternoons. Increasingly they are digital spaces.
Whatever you’re building, think beyond features, functionality and design and think first about how the person you serve wants to feel when she arrives at the place you’ve built.
Image by Hugh Han
When we’re innovating a product or iterating a service, we tend to add value by introducing features and benefits. But more isn’t always better.
Sometimes improvements and progress are made by removing things that people wouldn’t miss.
What could you subtract or stop doing to improve your product or service?
Image by Garry Knight
The track and field coach Bill Bowerman spent twenty-four years training athletes at the University of Oregon to optimise their performance. Bowerman was also the co-founder of Nike, and most famously the inventor of the waffle sole running shoe (which he prototyped by pouring rubber into the family’s waffle iron). Bowerman’s innovation made the shoe lighter and increased its grip. A tiny tweak that changed everything for the athletes who wore them and the company that made them.
Throughout history, what look like giant leaps were a result of tiny adjustments. Incremental shifts. Slight gaps that were filled. Something once thought trivial understood to be essential. The untapped and unseen, newly revealed.
The people who change the world pay attention to the seemingly insignificant. They’re always on the lookout for a way to make things better by degrees. What we see when we look at an athlete is someone running fast. What Bowerman saw was someone who could run faster.
Image by Happy Rower
Nobody knows who invented the button five thousand years ago. At first, buttons were simply used to adorn clothing. It wasn’t until the invention of the buttonhole three thousand years later that buttons became functional. It took us two thousand years to reimagine what the button could do. And in that moment fashion and even the fabric of our society was changed forever.
The invention of the buttonhole meant we had a more reliable way of securing our clothes. Instead of having to drape ourselves in swathes of cloth, we could wear more fitted garments that used less fabric. Clothing could be designed not only to cover bodies but also to subtly reveal them. People were free to move more easily because their clothing stayed put. That newfound freedom likely had a knock-on effect on both creativity and productivity.
It took someone asking a better question about what a button was for, to see what a button could be for.
All progress is about taking a small step into the unknown, towards the uncharted territory of the never been done before.
Ed Sheeran’s hit song, ‘Shape of You’ was the most streamed track of 2017. The official video is expected to reach three billion views within a year of being uploaded. There’s a lot we can learn from this video where Ed and his co-writers talk about the process of writing a hit song.
12 Lessons From The Biggest Hit of 2017
1. Hits are accidents waiting to happen. You have to put yourself the situations that give you the best chance of doing great work.
2. Creativity is unpredictable. In Ed’s words.’None of us thought that much into it.’
3. Flexibility is your friend. Understanding what’s not working is key to finding what does work.
4. You can’t always think your way to success. Sometimes you have to feel your way.
5. Going against the grain often creates magic.
6. Shifting your focus can help you to view challenges with fresh eyes.
7. Average first drafts are necessary iterations of great finished products.
8. Your perceived flaws and enforced constraints can become your biggest strengths.
9. A strong team trumps a lone superstar.
10.Nobody knows for sure. Everything would be a hit if we could predict what’s going to fly.
11.It pays to allow your work to be seen through someone else’s lens.
12.Don’t set out to win. Set out to love what you do.
Here’s to continuing to learn from our failures and successes.
Image by Kmeron
Ideas are easy and free, execution can be painful and costly. Not just because it requires time, effort and resources—but because we often don’t do enough groundwork to get clear about the impact we hope to create. While it’s important to plan for success and mitigate against failure, what’s equally worthwhile exploring is why the idea matters to you and the people you hope it will serve. Why should you give it priority?
These twenty-one questions will help you get clear about your intention.
21 Questions For Creators And Innovators
1. What sparked this idea?
2. What’s your motivation for starting this project?
3. Who is the ideal user, client or customer for the end product?
4. Why will they buy or buy into it?
5. Why do you care about solving this problem for these people?
6. Why are you the person or team to bring it to life?
7. Why this project and not something else?
8. What’s the end goal?
9. What’s the first step?
10.What resources do you need?
11.What’s your minimal viable product?
12.Who do you need to involve or get behind the project?
13.How much time do you need?
14.How will you test your idea?
15.Who can you trust to give you objective feedback?
16.What are the likely challenges you could face?
17.How can you mitigate against or learn from them?
18.What circumstances would make you quit?
19.What does success look like?
20.If this idea succeeds what’s your next step?
21.If not this, then what?
You’re more likely to succeed by confronting the hard questions before you begin.
Image by Business Region Skane
Asking questions is a big part of our job whatever our role. We know we can enhance our products and services and improve client outcomes by asking the right ones and acting on the answers.
So we send surveys.
We listen to what people say and watch what they do.
We go to the trouble of gathering data and then often fail to act on it.
We’ve become very good at digging holes to peer into.
Learning to ask great questions is a crucial skill both in business and in life. What’s even more important than asking the right questions though, is having a genuine interest in the answers you get back. We need to be more honest with ourselves about why we’re questioning something at all.
It’s just as critical to know how you’re likely to respond to the answer.
Image by Trygve Utstumo
There’s a subtle difference between a product or service that stems from an idea and one that’s born from recognising an opportunity. Ideas are solutions in search of problems. Opportunities are problems begging for a solution. The magic of solving problems for a specific customer is that the marketing is baked into the product.
Like many disruptive companies, the team at Dollar Shave Club created a compelling product, innovative business model and viral marketing campaign simply by understanding their customer’s pain points.
We find opportunities when we look for problems to solve, by asking the following two questions:
1. What’s happening that shouldn’t be?
2. What’s not happening, that should be?
In the case of Dollar Shave Club, the answers were clear. The razor blade market was dominated by a few legacy brands who had no direct relationship with their customers. Men were paying a lot of money for shave tech they didn’t need. Buying expensive razor blades didn’t necessarily guarantee a better shaving experience. Shopping for razors and replacing blades wasn’t as convenient as it could be. The startup disrupted the market by addressing these unmet needs.
The utility, quality and success of our products and services improve when we pay attention to what’s missing in our customers’ lives.
What gaps can you fill for your customers?
[Learn more about turning your insights into successful products and services in my new book, Hunch].
Image by Thomas Hawk.
We could be forgiven for thinking that facts and figures communicate the whole truth and hold the keys to unlocking the value in every future opportunity. New digital tools and technologies not only give us more information about the world around us and the people in it but also help us to know more about ourselves. We can literally monitor every step we take and every calorie we consume. The great hope is that if we can gather enough data, we will have the power to change the things we want to change—and that we can do it without having to face the fear of uncertainty.
Data—that which we can easily measure—is supposed to make us smarter, and maybe it can, but I’d argue that it doesn’t always make us wiser. Many of our actions and reactions can be observed and quantified, but that data doesn’t always expose the truth about why we take or have them. If it did, we would have found a way to stop people smoking cigarettes, overeating, gambling and drinking to excess. All of the health data that scientists use to persuade us to change our behaviour doesn’t necessarily have any effect. Hard facts tell only part of the story.
The Power Of Intuition In A Data-Driven World
Things are no different when it comes to evaluating the potential of ideas. Where was the data that predicted the need for and subsequent success of Google, Facebook and the iPhone, or the decline of Kodak, BlackBerry and orange juice? Which analyst forecast the 250 per cent increase in almond milk sales in the US over the past five years? Who anticipated that yoga pants would unseat jeans in popular culture, to spawn an active-wear revolution that will help the sports-apparel market be worth a predicted $178 billion globally by 2019? And what about colouring books for adults, with an estimated 12 million sold in 2015 in the US alone – who saw that juggernaut coming? When it comes to making predictions about which ideas will fly, we tend to forget that we can only use the information we have at hand about the past or the present to make a judgement call or prediction about the future. We don’t (or can’t) know the significance of things we have no information about, or haven’t yet thought to measure, and can’t possibly know for sure.
And yet we crave certainty, so we keep amassing and putting our faith in data. That faith has been fractured and then shattered by recent political events. According to Steve Lohr and Natasha Singer of The New York Times, all the data (and there was a lot of it) put Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the 2016 US presidential election at between 70 and 99 per cent. As we know, these forecasts made by experts who had pored over every single possible data point turned out to be far from reliable. Lohr and Singer report ‘a far-reaching change across industries that have increasingly become obsessed with data, the value of it and the potential to mine it for cost-saving and profit-making insights’. However, they also remind us that, ‘data science is a technology advance with trade-offs. It can see things as never before, but also can be a blunt instrument, missing context and nuance.’ This proved to be true in the case of the 2016 presidential election. It was easy to measure how people said they would vote, but far harder to gauge what was in people’s hearts.
Not all of the useful information we can gather can be precisely measured and carefully graphed. What we observe in the everyday about what’s working and what’s not, why this is chosen, and that is rejected, and how the world still turns when people say one thing and do another, can lead to the seemingly insignificant insights that change everything. When we are creating ideas that will exist in the world, we must take that world into account—all of it, not just a logical, thin-sliced or convenient view of it.
We instinctively understand more than we give ourselves credit for and we didn’t learn it all from Britannica, Wikipedia or Google. Every day, we have access to vast amounts of information that we unconsciously collect. While this other kind of data is subjective, it’s still useful, and it can be put to work. If we train ourselves to become more observant, if we pay attention—to our surroundings, to other people, to what’s happening that shouldn’t be, or what’s not happening, that should be—our most mundane experiences can fuel our boldest and most brilliant ideas.
Excerpted from my new book Hunch: Turn Your Everyday Insights Into The Next Big Thing which goes on sale in the US today.
Image by Hernán Piñera.