Perspectives on innovation

Here is an essay on innovation that I wrote a while ago. It still sounds reasonable to me, so maybe it is time to share it.

Today, no company, government or society can survive without both strong managers and leaders. Peter Drucker has shown us that management can transform society in a way that doesn't neglect individuals or put their strengths on the assembly line. His ideas are decades later both strikingly valid and practical, which is patent of visionary thinkers. He looked relentlessly for the truth, abstracting the right from the trendy and quick, and presenting it clearly to everyone. Prof. Drucker not only discussed individual topics, but illustrated how they relate to each other to form a system. Part of the value of his work is that we still can't fully decode the richness of these connections and their meaning, because of their immensity. If we reread his words, we'll often discover previously unidentified perspectives.

Finding innovative ideas has a lot to do with uncommon perspectives that were result of our conscious exposition to sense-stimulating experiences and the identification of a small problem in our domain that noone tackled before. An idea has a greater chance to succeed if its execution is even more distinctive, which requires from us to find a way to integrate our uniqueness into the problem, while not becoming part of it. In order to understand it better, we need to be able to live with it for extended periods of time and again seek the truth if we want to ferment the right solution. Solving small problems allows us to validate our ideas quickly through actively seeking constructive feedback. If the solution of the current problem can support the next opportunity, leading to a chain of sustainable events, we could allow ourselves to gradually increase the problem scope in relation to our abilities, while removing obstacles to our motivation. Working on the current problem without keeping future possibilities in perspective can hurt us more than we think.

“Seeking the truth” means that entrepreneurs have to become scientists, make experiments and act according to the insights they get from the data. It doesn't necessarily have to be “big”, but representative for the concrete use case. Innovators need to concentrate on developing working concepts, not just a single idea that will be easily copied, and too much data details can get in the way of that. Innovators are the engineers of their own products, so they need to be able to explain and defend their decisions in front of an audience of “fierce” stakeholders that they seek to include. If a solution can't be defended from 360 degrees or if people can easily find exceptions or contradictions in it, then it's better to stop it before it reaches the market and increases the cost of failure. If engineering is about the inside of a product, then design determines the outside, giving the first impression of this product. We still remember how Steve Jobs' father taught his son to paint not only the visible side of the fence well, but also the invisible. We see that people are ready to pay a lot more for beautiful products that reveal their belonging to a particular community or lifestyle. Design is the element that can inspire and motivate action in many innovators. They could use its psychology to influence buying decisions and raise awareness for their products not through costly marketing campaigns, but simply through making the products speak for themselves. Advertising can't fix a product that doesn't already spread virally. But philosophies that involve the intersection of multiple disciplines (e.g. STEM) can't be a prescription for innovators, because no two inventions are alike. What seems more important is to develop the ability to look at everything as a system and identify the various touchpoints that influence the customer behavior through lifetime. Many companies are so busy following their customers from the time they wake up to when they fall asleep, that they fail to recognize the adverse impact of tracking on the perception of their products. And in order to be sold, a product needs to have a good acceptance. The use of comprehensive statistics packages for data analysis can't compensate for the lack of personal touch with people. Showing sincere interest and empathetic listening of the details around the customer pain on a per-case basis can't be replaced by technology. But our understanding of the issues must not cause the customers to leave.

When evaluating products against competitive ones, it helps to think about their distinctive characteristics (e.g. ease of use, aesthetics, character etc.). A great product always has at least one characteristic that doesn't exist in other products or at least isn't so clearly pronounced. After we find out which the 5-6 best characteristics are, we can draw an equalizer on paper with a vertical “slider” for each characteristic and mark the level to which it is valid for both our product and competitive ones. Then, for every product, we can connect with a different color the levels of its sliders. This gives us all profiles in a view that allows for easy comparison. What we now need to look for is higher distinctiveness, expressed through the deviation between the profile lines. This can show us the chance of a product to stand out in the marketplace.

Entrepreneurs need to have faith in their abilities, especially when they will fail many times throughout their lives. We fail only when we give up, when we stop trying. This shows that a single change in our mindset can make or break us, so we have to decide every day, who we want to be. The ability to stand up in any circumstance and help others do so too is an important part of being an entrepreneur. Doing something out of nothing can bring a lot of satisfaction, while changing us from the inside out and bringing back the smile of those around us.

Radoslav Kostadinov

26.05.2013

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