Innovation strategy is an elusive concept to many businesses. People talk a lot about it but fail to actually commit to harnessing their innovation efforts into specific areas of focus.
Instead, “blue sky” brainstorms are held where any idea is a good idea, and innovation fails to be deliberately focused around anything. Innovating in this manner is like playing darts without a dart board – you simply don’t know where to aim.
Instead of taking pot luck with innovation, following a 3C’s approach can help you figure out where to aim.
The first C is for Customer. Spend some time talking to and observing your customers (or people who are not your customer but potentially could be in the future). Look for what their current needs are that are not being met satisfactorily by the current range of available solutions. For example, if you were trying to innovate within the area of GP Clinics, you might notice that every day, there are thousands of people sitting in GP clinics glancing at their watch in frustration because their GP is running late – and sometimes, very, very late.
The frustrations that you identify can then be used to feed into your innovation strategy. Frustrations answer the question of “Why this” – that is, why could this (e.g. reducing the time spent waiting at GP Clinics) be a good area to look at solving.
The second C stands for Change – understanding what technology, regulatory, economic or social changes are currently happening that either intensify the need for this frustration to be solved or mean that it is now easier to solve this problem, when in the past, it was more challenging.
For example, if you work in real estate and had identified the customer frustration of having to schlep around to tens – if not hundreds – of ‘open for inspections’ before landing on their dream home, you might think about the advances in Virtual and Augmented Reality and consider that those technology changes mean that now could be an optimal time to start solving that frustration. If you had tried to solve this frustration ten years ago when technology was less advanced, you probably would have struggled. As such, the C of Change answers the question of: Why now? That is, why is now the best time to be pursuing this opportunity.
The final C is for Company. The question to be asking yourself at this point is “What gives you the right to be the natural owner of this opportunity”. However, generally when we spot an opportunity in the market, the natural thought that goes through our mind is “I am so clever to have spotted this opportunity”. Whenever you hear yourself thinking this, take a step back and instead ask, “Why hasn’t the natural owner of this opportunity done something about this already?”
For example, looking back to the GP Clinic example, if you have had no experience working at a clinic or in a services scheduling business, you are probably not the natural owner of this opportunity. What you would then want to do is speak to some people who do work in the industry and try to understand why no one has gone after this opportunity. It may be because there is some inherent problem (e.g. low or no margins), or it may be because no one has yet spotted it.
The best and most profitable opportunities lie at the intersection of these three C’s. When you can find a customer need that is unmet, a change in the environment that suggests now is the optimal time to solve this opportunity, and if you are (ideally) the natural owner, you have found a great opportunity for innovation.
About the author
Dr Amantha Imber (pictured above) is the Founder of Inventium, a leading innovation consultancy. Her latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture where innovation thrives. Amantha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org