Monday, May 8, 2023

6 Keys to Superior Thinking in Business Innovations

superior-thinking-innovationAs I work with aspiring entrepreneurs and business professionals, I often hear about stress and disappointment from a great idea or innovation that failed for reasons that you don’t understand. When I dig deeper, I find that many of you are easily excited by a great new idea, but fail to diligently follow a validation process to test the limits of your thinking, before proceeding to rollout.

I particularly find lack of validation to be true for people who fall in love with a new technology, without giving thought to any specific problem it solves, or the infrastructure challenges implied. These issues are addressed well in a new book, “Think Bigger: How to Innovate,” by Shenna Iyengar. She is an expert on the study of innovation, and professor at Columbia Business School.

I like her recommendation of five discrete steps to help you think bigger, and innovate more successfully in your business, as well as your private life. I will summarize her recommendations here, as well as adding my own insights:

  1. Pick a problem to solve rather than an idea. Start with a real problem, rather than a technology or solution looking for a problem. Forget your dreams to save the world, and focus on a specific business or personal problem you want to solve, with knowledge of people who are willing and able to reward the solution. Temper your passion with reality.

    Sometimes you have to reframe a problem if it looks insurmountable. You may find that thinking it through to find the root cause will lead you to the answers you seek, or talking about it with someone will spark your creative genius or add insight and perspective.

  2. Break down the problem to find complexities. When you jump from problem to solution without pausing to break the problem down, you may lose in quality what you gain in speed. Also, the breakdown allows you to see complexities and apply creativity to find solutions that work. Iterate to solve all subproblems and you have the total solution.

    Revision of the breakdown list is a key part of the process. Don’t just accept your first breakdown. Revise the list at least once. Keep revising until you find that your study and interviews no longer give you further ideas. The goal is to solve all of the subproblems.

  3. Identify the motivations of decision-makers. Of most importance is an awareness of your own wants and expectations, to better avoid paths that lead to frustration or dead ends. Of equal importance is the real need of your target audience, combined with emotions and other decision criteria. Don’t build a solution that totally satisfies no one.

    This is the point where you must keep the Big Picture as top priority. The three primary parties in this picture are you, your targets, and third-party players who matter. There will always be conflicting wants here, so optimize for the party you want to please most.

  4. Evaluate alternatives that are now available. Most real problems have workarounds, or solutions that you may not be aware of. Use all available search platforms, including Internet search engines, social media, and discussions with experts to find and evaluate these alternatives. Make sure your solution is unique and will be accepted by key parties.

    Also, use this step to evaluate the value of strategic copying of existing solutions. Look for sweet spots of others to imitate or combine, but never copy the entirety of a known precedent. Your goal is to end up with a solution that is in total more useful and novel.

  5. Build a list of many combinations and tactics. Stay open-minded and invite diverse perspectives to hone your solution features, marketing, and rollout. Position against competing offerings in the marketplace, highlighting your positives, rather than trying to put-down competitors. Encourage open discussions of options, rather than stealth mode.

  6. Test to see if others see the solution you see. This is often called the ‘Third Eye’ test, where you describe your idea and solution from memory to others and see if comes out and is understood the same way each time, for you and for the people listening. Now is a better time to change your description or pivot a solution before making a big investment.

In reality, I find that innovation is most often nothing more, and nothing less, than a new combination of old ideas, put together to solve a real problem in a more appealing way and executed more effectively. There is no guarantee, of course, that any combination or process will work, but thinking bigger about any new idea will certainly improve your odds and satisfaction.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 04/24/2023 ***



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