Innovation is the key to long-term business success, both in startups as well as established organizations. Yet every business and every entrepreneur I know struggles with this challenge, focused on hiring the right people and implementing the right process. Yet, in my experience the key seems to be more a discipline of innovative thinking from everyone, driven from the top.
I was happy to see my own view reinforced in the classic book, “Innovation Thinking Methods for the Modern Entrepreneur,” by long-time entrepreneur and innovation expert Osama A. Hashmi. He provides dozens of ideas and examples to illustrate how this discipline can work, and the power it brings to any organization. Here are ten key lessons from his book that we can all learn from:
- Utilize first principles thinking. The idea is to seek fundamental truths that will always remain true, after you remove all the things that don’t necessarily have to remain true. Then, when you are unable to remove more layers, you can build up to the fastest and most efficient way of getting that base thing done. Elon Musk recommends this approach.
- Practice the one-sentence method. Distilling a field of work down to a single sentence describing the core elements helps to innovate and keep ahead of the curve. If you keep fixated on that core essence, and figure out the rest along the way, you have a better chance of innovating and trying out new things. That’s how an industry reinvents itself.
- The future history assessment approach. Start the product design process by thinking about what a historian in the future would look back on as the one big thing that changed everything. This idea helps to distill down the most important things to make or sell in a product. Amazon uses this technique internally for all new product design efforts.
- Challenge the fundamental assumption. Ferret out the fundamental assumptions that everyone keeps making whenever they make a product of this type. Brainstorm with the intent of changing these assumptions, and radical innovation will follow. An example is the evolution of computer control to screen touches and gestures, versus keys and mice.
- Outsource services back to the customer. Pervasive access to the Internet and social media have allowed customers to take an active role in helping other customers, with customer support, requirements definition, and open source development. This has facilitated innovation in responsiveness, as well as profitability. The trend has only begun.
- Re-analyze the context of the last change. We tend to view present and future solutions in today’s context, rather than the context of the last change. Market dynamics change rapidly, so thinking back to why things changed in a previous time can generate new and innovative approaches, based on the new market context and technologies.
- Force original intent thinking. When people live in a certain status quo long enough, they start to forget what they originally set out to do. “It has always been this way” becomes the way of thinking and stalls innovation. When you provide a solution that gets customers closer to their original intent, they’ll be quick to drop current lessor solutions.
- Force the innovator’s dilemma on competitors. This is the concept that successful competitors have a hard time investing in new products that will cannibalize their existing core business. Focus thinking on what you can innovate, and how you can position it in the market to make it impossible for incumbents to follow without killing themselves.
- Explore the negative space of possibility. For innovation-thinking, what people are doing today or even wanting today may not be an interesting-enough question. What’s more interesting is what people are not doing today, or what they should be using to make their lives drastically better. Don’t just chase the space that already exists.
- Pick an impossible target and get mad about it. The obsession of solving a problem once and for all frames a certain type of thinking—one where you start to feel that no other product or company in that market gets it, and no one else has been able to crack it because all the solutions are awful. Now you have the right mindset to break barriers.
There are many more existing innovation-thinking methods, and more to be discovered, but this selection should be adequate to get you started. As an entrepreneur, it’s your responsibility and your challenge to be the leader and role model in fostering and rewarding innovation-thinking in your business. Your long-term survival and satisfaction depend on it.