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.
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.
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.
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!