—Marc Benioff, founder and CEO, Salesforce.com
Go ahead. Be innovative. You know you want to. All the cool kids are doing it! But your question is: what IS it? What is this magic word innovation everyone is bandying about these days?
One part of innovation, certainly, is creation. But creation alone does not equal innovation. No, for something to be truly innovative there needs to be added value. It’s creating something new that no one knew they had to have, but now can’t live without. It’s changing the game.
Consider this tidbit:
The innovation paradox is the need to find answers we didn’t know we needed, from places we didn’t know to look–the very antithesis of what we often do. – Sam Ford, director of digital strategy for Peppercomm
Now consider Apple. Seated comfortably in the top spot on Fast Company’s annual list of the 50 most innovative companies in the world, Apple landed this prime position because the company dominates the technology world. Wherever Apple goes, other technology giants follow, trying desperately to get in on the game. Apple’s Siri interface created a new arena, and big dogs like Google and Amazon were forced to put up or shut up. No matter what, they had to invest in their own Siri technologies. To quote the late Steve Jobs, “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have… It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”
According to the Harvard Business Review, there are five skills that the most successful innovators possess:
1. Associating: The ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields
2.Questioning: Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge the common wisdom. They ask “why?”, “why not?” and “what if?”
3. Observing: Discovery-driven executives scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers.
4. Experimenting: Innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots.
5. Networking: innovators go out of their way to meet people with different ideas and perspectives.
To put all of this information into one point you should remember: innovation is the lifeblood of your company.
Innovation does not happen by chance. Innovation is accomplished consistently and systematically, by listening to the voice of the customer and having a process for delivering solutions.
So How Does This Translate into More Customers?
It’s a pretty basic concept. Create value and they will come. Truly innovative products and services attract customers because these products and services add significant value. And the question you should be asking your customers is WHY they really come to you. For example, people don’t buy greeting cards because they want a folded rectangle of heavy paper with fancy photos and funny sayings. They buy greeting cards as a way to share thoughts with the recipient on a special occasion. Therefore your question becomes, “How can I make that process easier, faster, more fun for my customers?” Therein lies innovation.
Engaging with potential customers and engrossing them in the process of innovation is how some of the top innovators are so successful. Here’s a specific example: Jane Customer would love to see that new show everyone is always talking about, but who has time to watch television, let alone catch up on a DVR?
Enter HBO Go, the world’s first comprehensive mobile TV service. HBO subscribers have access to all of the channel’s content from any personal mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Stuck in the airport on a Sunday evening? In the waiting room at your dentist’s office? How about, instead of getting sucked up into the never-ending abyss that is your work inbox, you catch up on True Blood while you wait? And who wouldn’t rather get lost in Game of Thrones than anything work-related?
According to Alison Moore, HBO’s senior VP of digital platforms, “On the iPad, all you have to do is [swipe your finger] and you see everything else HBO has done. That’s a pretty powerful reason not to disconnect.” Add to that all of the interactive features that are built into HBO Go, and you have a recipe for customer satisfaction.
Become a Verb
Become a verb. That’s right, a verb. I remember vividly the first time someone asked me, “Have you heard of Google?” The year was 2001. The answer was no. Fast-forward to January 2013, and I’ll tell you I google at least five times per day. I could tell you that I search, but why would I, when we both know that google=search? In fact, the folks over at Merriam-Webster officially declared google a verb in 2006.
google: to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web
Talk about a marketing coup.
The following is excerpted from Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become? Copyright 2012 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
Google Gets It: Creating Better Searchers
Google provides an excellent example of understanding and acting on “The Ask.” The company’s PageRank algorithms–honed and polished by cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin–fundamentally redefined the power and potential of Internet “search.” Google’s link-based architecture quickly became more than the world’s most successful search engine. The technology effectively made its users partners and collaborators. The multibillion-dollar innovation investments made in hardware, software, and network technologies were also investments in the collective intelligence of Google’s users.
“Google gets smarter every time someone makes a link on the web,” declared Tim O’Reilly, the publisher and Internet investor who coined the Web 2.0 sobriquet. “Google gets smarter every time someone makes a search. It gets smarter every time someone clicks on an ad. And it immediately acts on that information to improve the experience for everyone else. It’s for this reason I argue that the real heart of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence.”
O’Reilly is correct. Google’s algorithms continuously build on its customers’ collective intelligence. What makes the company’s collective intelligence algorithms so brilliant, says Google research vice president Alfred Specter, is that Google is constantly learning from–as well as about–its users. This is Google’s distinguishing competence.
Consequently, declaring that Google is in the search business radically misunderstands both its technology and business model.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Born of the very essence of the concept of innovation is this no-brainer: innovation is a continual process. It’s why Amazon didn’t stop with the first version of the Kindle and why LinkedIn isn’t just about finding your next career step. These companies, as well as all innovators, know that you can never stop creating, sharing and becoming more useful.
Innovation keeps you in the loop. It keeps you fresh. And sometimes it’s the only way to unseat the top dog in your industry. Did someone say MySpace?
Just remember, innovation can be as simple as the bendy straw.