How to innovate

Innovation is a funny thing. You have all sorts of ideas that spring into your mind at weird times – in the shower, during your morning jog, when you’re ready to go to bed, etc. You get excited, you want to immediately tell the world about it and get it implemented. Of course reality strikes. You either forget about it, or the idea loses steam or you are not able to sell it. OR you are able to sell it, build it and take a shot at making it successful.

The question is – is that really innovation? What is the basis of innovation? Just a crazy idea that pops into your mind? Maybe but its got to be more than that. For instance – You have to know it will sell. How would you know that? It has to based on some facts. The internet is filled with resources that will tell you how to innovate and there are countless blogs, courses, webinars that do that same.

Here’s are some methods i have read, learned and practiced in my day to day work.

Method 1: (inspired by this podcast on the Product Management Pulse blog) This is the best and most valuable approach. In your industry (or area of interest), meet with as many users of your solutions or services, as you can. Not to find out how they use your product or service but instead focus on their situation. What is they day like? What is a good day? What’s a bad day like? What frustrated them? Think about how you can help them. Remember – the ideas to build your business lie outside you office. Get out, talk to people.

Method 2: Conferences, seminars are a gold mine of ideas. I’m not talking about sitting in your booth and making presentations or just visiting the competitor’s booth. Talk to the people who are attending the seminars. Why are they there? What are they looking for? Now i haven’t personally done enough of this but i have been to a few training sessions and public seminars where i have met and talked to a few people. I can only imagine there is a lot more focus and broader range of people at conferences related to your industry.

** The next 2 methods are more internally focused and certainly not the best way to come up with useful ideas. But if you dont have enough support to routinely engage with users or attend seminars then these would be alternatives. **

Method 3: (Inspired by the Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Challenge) For your business or personal interest, identify what your core strengths are. Look into the past and identify your key success factors. Think about the factors that led to those successes. Keeping in mind where you are now, think about where you would like to be a few years from now. Now think about how you can extrapolate your core strengths and past success factors to get to where you would like to be. While doing this exercise you might stumble upon ideas you need to implement today to get where you want to go.

Method 4: Talk to sources inside your company. Your sales force, your customer service people, your marketing folks, your usage research/business intelligence folks. They all interact with users or study/influence user behavior. They can give you valuable insights that you may want to consider as well.

Last but not least is social media. Pay attention to what people are talking about on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs about your company, your product, your interests. Try and learn from them. Of course take everything with a grain of salt and dig deeper if you find a nugget of information.

These are just some thoughts but the point is the more you can learn about your users/customers the more you can innovate successfully. You should be passionate about getting close to your customers… to genuinely try and help solve problems for them.Find ways to engage with them face to face or when all fails at least over phone. While the Apples of the world may innovate behind closed doors those are very few success stories. You will have far more chances of successes and innovative ideas if you engage closely with your users.

Focus on facts and go make it happen.

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Functioning Form – Apple Devices with Built-in Micro Projectors

I have obviously been away but to miss something such as this is a crime.

Apple Devices with Built-in Micro Projectors

07.06.2009 by LukeW

Expanding even further on my recent articles about understanding capabilities, Mac Rumors reports that Apple is expected to launch devices with built-in projectors later this year. The projectors would allow the iPhone and possibly the iPod touch to directly project video output onto an external surface.To better understand the impact of this capability on consumer devices, take a look at this video of Pattie Maes’ talk at the TED conference this year. In it she demos a wearable device with a projector that paves the way for rich interaction with our environment.

Michael Nielsen » Is scientific publishing about to be disrupted?

This is a very insightful entry by Michael Nielsen.  Due to my bias, I had to immediately skip to Part II before i came back and read Part I. Some of the things i might question – Automatic spelling correct/relevancy ranking/alerting service, etc are indeed offered on Scopus. But whether they are good (I believe they are competitive) is certainly something the users will judge and Michael would qualify as one. I haven’t heard from any of the users i talked to that any of these feature are poor but again it could be my bias.

A great search engine for science: ISI’s Web of Knowledge, Elsevier’s Scopus and Google Scholar are remarkable tools, but there’s still huge scope to extend and improve scientific search engines [6]. With a few exceptions, they don’t do even basic things like automatic spelling correction, good relevancy ranking of papers (preferably personalized), automated translation, or decent alerting services. They certainly don’t do more advanced things, like providing social features, or strong automated tools for data mining. Why not have a public API [7] so people can build their own applications to extract value out of the scientific literature? Imagine using techniques from machine learning to automatically identify underappreciated papers, or to identify emerging areas of study.

via Michael Nielsen » Is scientific publishing about to be disrupted?.

Read the article in its entirety. It  is very insightful and several pointers can be taken away as always.

Simple ideas lead to useful solutions

Sometimes the simplest of solutions can be most useful. For example, if you are out looking for a house and want to calculate how much mortgage you can afford, one simple solution would be look up a mortgage calculator online. I’ve used this tool from Bankrate in the past and found it useful.

Anyway – my point is – sometimes simple tools that focus on a niche area can be very helpful. We are always looking for the next killer app, the next ‘cool’ idea that will solve problems for a lot of people. While we’re trying to build that one solution fits all, we can often get lost in complexity.

Twitter, in my opinion, is a really simple app. I remember years ago, i built a silly little VB client app to post updates on tasks I was working on for this dot com startup. My team mates could also get on the same app running on their machines and post their updates. None of the updates were lost since we stored them in a central dB. Didn’t think too much of it and it got lost in time as we all moved on with our careers. Goodness me… if only I knew.

Here’s another example of a simple app that will have its uses. Kevin Marks is a former Google employee (Read news about his departure). Brilliant guy who worked on all kinds of stuff – Orkut, OpenSocial, Microformats, what have you. You can check out his blog (Epeus’ epigone) for more gory details.

A couple of days ago he put together this application in 12 hours. Amatwit. Using Amazon’s API and the Twitter’s API users can search Amazon for items (currently defaulting to books) and from the search results you can tweet links to those books. Nice.. simple.. useful.

Do you have any simple and useful solutions? Maybe you already have something and just don’t realize it.