In every part of life, some things are for the show while other things are for the dough. This is especially true for innovation. In the media and in the boardroom we use the “I” word as a sexy beast, representing amazing breakthrough products that enslave customer’s purchase libidos and print money right into the coffers. But this is only 1% (maybe less) of all innovation that is occurring.
The reality is that most innovation is rather boring. Removing two screws from a box is far less noteworthy than something that let’s me watch Jersey Shore on the bus. You could argue that there’s a lot higher revenue upside to the latter, but I would counter that you have a significantly greater amount of opportunities to achieve the former. Unfortunately, the real world of practical fuel saving innovations often get the short shrift over the hot, red number with the cool flame decals.
For example, let’s consider engaging customers to generate new ideas for product development. A lot of companies have conducted “Idea Jams” and brainstorming events, or conduct contests and competitions to get that next big idea. These things sometimes seem more for PR than for purpose. Sure, these have value and sometimes great things can result, but you also suffer the risk of being flooded with useless data and these events can also be expensive and difficult to administer.
Now contrast these approaches with your development staff that is in constant contact with customers, gleaning bits and pieces of information over several months or years which directly influence the design and direction of their products. Rather than a special event, this is more a part of everyday work, and although not as visible as attempts to reach for the game-changer, is just as, if not more, important to a company’s health.
Of course, context is key, not all approaches to innovation are for the same purposes and need to be applied accordingly. You do not do an Idea Jam for a parts reduction project. However, this requires deeper thinking than the sheep mentality that seems to abound in executive circles that initiate initiatives because they heard something good about it rather than analyzing its feasibility.