The Four Secrets To Commercially Successful Innovation.
Let me begin by sharing a story. A group of people were around a river bank when they saw a baby floating down the river. They were shocked and one of them quickly got in the river to save the baby. Just when the person was getting out of the river, they noticed two more babies floating downstream. Immediately, two people got in to save them. But the moment, they got out, they saw a few more babies floating downstream. Immediately the entire group panicked and they started trying to save the babies haphazardly and some could not be saved. One person, however decided not to enter the river again and headed in another direction.
The people screamed to this person. They shouted and cursed at him – “You insensitive man. Babies are dying here. Where the hell are you going?”
The man replied – “Don’t overreact you idiots, I am going to find out who the heck is releasing these babies into the water and kill him.”
This, at the basic level is the secret to innovation. True innovation requires you to not just be involved in day to day competition but think way others compared to how others think.
Imagine you are a candle maker in the 19th century. What are some of the things you can do to beat competition? Some would say they could make candles that last longer. Some would say they would introduce different types of scented candles to differentiate themselves. Some look to improve distribution and so on.
Let’s say at the same time you run a horse carriage business instead. What would you do? Some would say get better horses, get premium carriages, get more carriages, sell big contracts etc.
These things, while giving incremental progress are not true innovation. A real innovator would switch from making candles to inventing and manufacturing electric bulbs. Competition destroyed! A real innovator would switch from horse carriages to inventing or adopting cars. Boom! Competition Destroyed! No matter how much money you spend, you cannot buy a horse that runs faster than a car and doesn’t get tired.
So, what can you do to create a hugely successful innovation? There are four keys to the same.
1) The first key to figuring out how to innovate is to actually get crystal clear on what business you really are in. The answer does not lie in the official name of the products/services. The answer lies in what benefit are you really trying to provide to the customer and how you can maximize the benefit.
You may think you were in the candle making business, but you were not. You were actually in the artificial lighting business and making that long lasting and convenient. You were not in the horse carriage business, you were in the business of making transportation faster and convenient. If you are only trying to innovate within the officially designated name of the products you provide, it is impossible to innovate as you just cannot think outside the box.
2) It is a myth that innovators are 100 percent original. To innovate, you don’t need to start from scratch, you can simply perfect what others have made. Contrary to popular belief, Edison did not invent the first light bulb. He only perfected the first light bulb that was commercially usable. Apple did not invent the mouse, it perfected the design that was already made by Xerox. Apple did not invent touch screen smart phones either.
This doesn’t mean one is a copycat. No one is 100 percent original and those who try to be waste a tremendous amount of time. Originality simply means taking what is already existing, adding your own creative spin to it, that makes it unique to you and shipping it out. In order to maximize innovation, ask yourself, are there any existing technologies that can be acquired or licensed by you to create something so revolutionary that they can destroy the competition?
3) Successful innovation cannot be too far ahead of its time. If you introduce a product in full force but it is not accepted by the market or it is way ahead of its time, innovation will still lead to failure. For example, it is impossible to use bulbs if there is no electricity. Inventing things like Facebook, Youtube, Google would be inconceivable if there was no Internet. Innovation needs to go hand in hand with infrastructure. Either you have to wait for the infrastructure to be developed, or you have to go out and build the infrastructure yourself! The answer lies in how long term your vision can be without running out of cash!
4) The fourth key is innovation without validation leads to failure. By validation, I mean acceptance by the market. For every innovative product/service, there are many that have failed miserably because they were not accepted by the market. The reason they were not accepted by the market was because the innovators were either too far ahead of their time or what they were doing was simply not valuable enough to the market at that price point.
Most of the times, they did not test their products at all or made up some imaginary projections through an even more imaginary market research. The only way to test a product or a service is with actual users who can be relentless with feedback. With an innovative product it is extremely important that potential end users are brought in at an early stage to give you feedback so that you can make appropriate changes before you finally launch in the market place. This will give you the knowledge to actually proceed in the right direction instead of shooting arrows blindfolded.
Finally, the only way to test commercial viability is through orders or pre-orders. It is not enough to get assurances from someone that they will buy. The only way the product will be validated is if it can generate actual sales. Validating your product with the market in terms of its potential to be valuable and generate sales is the number one thing you can do to greatly to reduce your risk when introducing an innovative product or service!
I hope this article was enjoyable. However, in order for it to be practically useful, ask yourself, what is it that you can do to innovate in your industry? More importantly, consider every single point mentioned in the article and ask yourself, how you can apply each of those points within your own business. If you can apply each point successfully, you are almost guaranteed to become a great innovator and market leader in your industry!