Business Analysis, Innovation, Life, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User-centered Design

User centered innovation

You might be slightly intrigued by the title of this post. Yes, you are correct in that the focus of any innovation almost always happens to be on customers and end-users. It ends up delivering value to users in some way or the other and that the most significant benefactor in the process of innovation is the user. No denying that truth, however, in this post I wish to look at innovation being driven by users and their needs. Let us look at a few instances which triggered the users to innovate and what it takes to nurture this user-centered innovation.

Defining innovation

From whatever I have learnt from my experience, I would define innovation as an approach to deliver value to customers and users, using the existing resources and working under the constraints. It could be a powerful combination of bringing in some simple ideas, adding some imagination and creating value.

This value-creation process can span across multiple industries, verticals, domains and market segments. Innovation is not restricted to products alone. Innovation can happen in the way you deliver services to your customers or even in the way you improve the internal processes within your organization.

Whose problem is it anyway

Innovation starts with identifying the right problems and can be said to be successful when the ‘right solution’ is created. What is a right solution? It is that which works for customers and users! But whose problems are you trying to solve? Its the users’ problem and if its their problem, who is best equipped to find a way out? Well, the people who have the problem did find the solutions too in some cases and in this post we shall touch upon a few of them.

   

 

Quality and process improvement initiatives such as Kaizen, TQM (Total Quality Management) and Quality Circles have been evolved in the later part of the 20th century. These initiatives came out after finding that the people who are close to the problems are the people are working on the shop floor and are working on the assembly lines. Many companies in the automobile industry have successfully leveraged Quality Circles to identify the problems and also soliciting solutions from the people who are working on the shop floors.

Improvisation vs. innovation

Innovation need not always be ground-breaking and involving rapid changes to the existing ways. It is not about big or small, high or low, but it is about the ability to deliver value in the first place. As the saying goes ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, it is necessity and not needs alone that drives people to innovate and invent. Note that the user is the person who has the problem or the need and he/she has the best ability to determine the scale of impact or outcome from the process.

A case in point is the video clip that you can view by clicking on the link below. I came across this small video clip being shared in the social media. I am really fascinated by the way the gentleman in the video found out a way to satisfy his need to look better in the eyes of the onlookers, when driving his car. Sometimes, its the urge to look better that makes us think for better way of doing things leading to innovation. This proves that innovation or the ability to make things better need not always be on a large scale nor involve massive machinery.

Manual Power windows_innovation demo_Video Clip

Innovation is not expensive

User-centered innovation need not be a huge investment involving millions of dollars. It need not be even be seen as an investment in some cases. It is more a process of improving the things or merely doing the same things in a different way to bring about the value.

I am reminded of the story during the cold war space programmes by USA and the USSR. NASA invested millions of dollars to invent a pen which writes in zero-gravity space conditions. They invented this space pen ( also called as Fisher’s space pen) after a lot of effort, time and cost of research. The Russian Cosmonauts on the other hand, used a cheaper and smarter way…they used ‘pencil’! My friends in India might recollect the famous scene by actor Amir Khan in the popular movie ‘3Idiots’.

    

I saw this Fisher space pen (also called as Bullet Pen) when I visited the Smithsonian’s NASM (National Air & Space Museum) in Washington D.C. Of course, the above is just a story and not completely factual, as the NASA did not develop the space pen but acquired it from the company that manufactured it and later the Russians too started using the space pen. However, the moral of the story is that innovation need not be expensive all the time.

Measuring innovation

A true measure of innovation is the value delivered to the users. But I would not measure the value as high, medium or low. I would not even quantify the value delivered because that would defeat the purpose of innovation as a continual or should I say continuous process of making things better.

Native intelligence and improvisation

Innovation does not require high end technology nor using huge number of resources. Some times , as they say at grass roots level, this can be witnessed through using native intelligence and improvising in a small way. A small example to prove this is the case of mobile vendors of vegetables who went innovative in the rural areas of Vijayawada in India. I witnessed one such instance in a remote area, Gollapudi in the outskirts of Vijayawada. This area has a few colonies which came up recently but they are too inside the town to be closer to any everyday things such as vegetables and groceries.

  

Their application of native intelligence and innovation starts right from the vehicle they use for moving from one house to another. The local vegetable vendors hired a truck, took a few select vegetables in bulk and went about advertising the arrival of their truck. The truck is customized to suit the needs of the vendors. They announce that they have come onto the roads using a microphone. The lady who uses this microphone seems to be more comfortable with a telephone, than a microphone. Also, considering the comfort factor too, the mike was remodeled into a telephone receiver using which interactive and sensible announcements are made by the vendors. Now, that’s what I call user-centered innovation. :-)

Hope you find this post informative. We will touch base in the next post, till then ciao!

25 Comments

  1. Cheryl Smith

    Such a Wonderful information – I think your views on innovation, product engineering and user experience are very practical and useful too. This information helps me to improve my perspectives and approach to work and business. Thank you so much!

  2. Eugene Moles

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  3. Allen G

    JUST AWESOME!!!!!!Gr888 Job…You put innovation into a new perspective and I quite like the practical examples from real life to help explain your views. Keep writing the good stuff!

  4. Jimmy Rodrigues

    Great blog post! You covered some nice things in this one. I came across it by using Google and I already subscribed to the site, will be following you on my iPad :)

  5. Ed Browden

    Great post with really nice views and practical points. This is exactly the type of article that should be shared around the internet. Keep up the nice blog!

  6. Charles Durand

    Awesome post.Really like your views and the way you explain with fitting examples and real life case studies. I can really use these for the research I am currently involved with. Keep it up!

  7. Nick H

    Great blog! I really love reading this one and especially your examples on the practical innovative methods used by the town hawkers. Keep it up

  8. Schaum C.

    I am observing that your focus on innovation, product engineering and usability is helping you churn out some great blog posts. You relate your points with good examples and real life case studies. Nice blog you have out here. Look forward for the good stuff every week.

  9. Monica Minnoley

    I have recently seen some other examples of user driven innovation in practical life. Then I could remember and connect with what you mentioned and it really helped me put 2 and 2 together. Your blog site is very interesting and I must say I enjoy reading your posts and learning from them. Keep writing!

  10. John S. Walter

    Its amazing to know the kind of results one can achieve with innovation. I really liked the real life example of the villages improvising their receiver as phone. We have some good takeaways from your blog post. Thank you and keep writing the good stuff.

  11. Shania Williams

    I really enjoyed reading your post. It proved to be pretty helpful to me as a product manager and I am sure to all the readers too. It is always great when you can not only be informed, but also entertained. Keep posting great stuff like this one!

  12. Mira Vozniak

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  13. Ella G.

    I like your post for touching upon innovation from a different point of view, unlike others. You have a unique perspective and your writing style is professional yet simple. Keep it up!

  14. David Watson

    I appreciate your blog site and bookmarked it . I concur with a lot of the things you said and i am waiting for the new posts . You are one of the best blog writers that i have observed recently . I also like the way your blog site is structured.

  15. Matthew Wallace

    You are so right. Your blog post is surely worth a read because now I’ve acquired a whole new view of innovation and product management. I didn’t realise that these issues were so important and so universal. You absolutely put it in perspective for me.

  16. Christina Townsend

    Nice post. Good and practical perspectives on product innovation. I have some good takeaways from your blog posts. Keep writing.

  17. Colleen Anderson

    Hello! I really like your blog posts. Most of all, I like the way you use the examples and real life cases to relate to the points. Waiting for more such useful posts!

  18. Mike Proctor

    I really like your post on innovation. It is very contextual & hits on the right areas. Guess I can implement a few tips from this post. keep up the good work.

  19. Nancy W.

    I found your blog through Google and this post is much appreciated. I am a professional innovation specialist and I am really pleased that you have mentioned very valuable points in your post. Keep it up!

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