Getting insight right: 10 steps to improve your innovation process.

Insight drives innovation. Not culture.

  1. Getting insight right

Insights drive innovation, not culture. But the obsession is with “culture,” not insights.

A Google search of “innovation culture” yields 345 million hits. Amazon has over 11,000 books . In varying combinations they focus on the components (teams, processes, and physical and psychological environments) and the elements (collaboration, ideation, implementation and value creation) of a culture of innovation.

Getting insight right

[Ideas need Insights]

The language of “innovation culture” reveals what is considered important. The “worldle” on the left comes from an analysis of a dozen articles (46 pages, 20,688 words) on creating a culture of innovation from Harvard, Yale, Kellogg, McKinsey and various prominent business magazines (Forbes, Inc., FastCo, etc.).

Removing the words “innovate,” “culture” and “company,” it is abundantly clear that this school of thought is focused on managing your people/employees/team to generate more new ideas. With the right risks, rewards, ecosystems, processes, etc.

Yet with all of the available research on innovation, the culture, the consultants, books, processes, and conferences, why does innovation remain so elusive? Why is it so hard?

In my mind, getting insight right in your innovation process is what companies need to work on instead of trying to create a culture.

The relentless focus on “more new ideas” ignores the need for insight.

Even the gurus ignore it: in his TEDx talk  “The Art of Innovation” Guy Kawasaki never once mentions insight.

New products/services/businesses fail when they don’t address a real customer (human) need. A “great idea” without a true insight – finding a current frustration, unarticulated need or something people are not getting enough of or not getting well – results in innovation that eventually fails.

Without good insights behind your ideas, you’ll get plenty of practice at failing fast. – J. Holcombe

Its much easier (cheaper and faster, too) to assume we already understand our customers and their needs.

I recently facilitated a session where the only person in the room who had any insight was the VP of Sales; she was the only one who spent time directly with their customers. And although the team had lots of brilliant ideas, none matched what their customers were asking for or needed (they went on to develop their top three ideas anyway; let’s hope they fail fast!).

Conducting research is time consuming, costly and confusing to many organizations. They collect reams and reams of quantitative data that does not yield much insight, or hope their customers will magically provide them with the insight they need.

But your customers don’t spend time thinking about their decisions, or understanding their motivations or needs. That’s actually our job.

It is much easier to simply assume we understand our customers and their needs.

Or, worse, assume our customers “just don’t get it.” They are behind. Off-base. Ignorant.

Discovering and developing insights is just too hard (or requires luck).

Insights are hard work. They take time; periods of intense observation and study interspersed with periods of incubation and reflection.

Not knowing how to generate insight, one might conclude that winning Lotto is easier than having an insight. To the uninitiated, insights feel individual, random, magical, or just plain lucky.

So many skip right over the discovery and insight phase and jump headlong into idea generating; after all, innovation starts with a great idea, right?

Do yourself, your team, and your facilitator a favor.

Before you jump headlong into idea generation, think about getting insights right in your innovation process. Make insight the leading component AND element of your innovation culture.

10 steps for getting insight right in your innovation process.

  1. Practice. Insight is not a fixed ability. You can getter better at them. Your mental approach is as important as the tools and techniques that help spark insight.
  2. Go on a data diet. More data is not better. When it comes to their customers, most organizations are data rich and empathy poor. To correct this imbalance, see below.
  3. Conduct more exploratory (qualitative) research. The vast majority of marketing research is confirmatory (quantitative) designed to help you make a decision, not have an insight. Big Data won’t help much either, because it doesn’t answer the question “why?”. Go out into field and do qualitative research that challenges your assumptions, gets your hands dirty, and makes you uncomfortable.
  4. Improve your ALOE skills  (Asking, Listening, Observing, Empathizing) so you can truly get to know your human customers AND work better together as a team.
  5. Live your customer’s lifestyle. Get out from behind your brand trackers and your social media listening posts and go out and get to know and appreciate your customers. Walk a mile in their shoes.
  6. Be a customer, too. Take your own cruise, fly in your own coach seat, eat your own food and drink, shop in your own store, sleep in your own hotel room. You might have an insight.
  7. Know your customer inside and out. Organizations collect lots of customer data but they don’t spend a lot of time studying it. Becoming a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about your customer prepares you to have more insights. Play “undercover boss” and work a day in the drive-through, checkout lane or the genius bar. Do whatever it takes.
  8. Collaborate. Discovering/developing/creating insights is hard work best done in teams, not alone. Lock your team in a room – offsite – for two days with a facilitator.
  9. Allow for periods of incubation. Many teams value “busy-ness” over incubation, but insights can’t be “ordered up.” Walk away from the problem; insights take time.
  10. Benchmark insight. Develop a definition for insights and a template for writing them up to improve communication and collaboration across your organization.

While many think a great idea is the beginning of the innovation process,  great ideas need to be based upon a great insights.

Insight should also have its own culture – its own definition, practices, methodologies and processes – so it becomes intentional and not a “random act of genius.”

The next time your team wants to go “ideate” or sets up another “brainstorming” session, suggest that you go “insighting” instead.


About the Author

John Holcombe

John is currently the Founder of Wellspring Insights & Innovation and a member of the Board of Directors for the Miami Innovation Fund. John helps many iconic brands and organizations fill up their innovation pipeline with insights, ideas and new concepts. He also offers workshops and training on how individuals and organizations can have more and better insights by developing a culture of insight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *