There are some words that just roll off the tongue in business. Words like “unique” and “tailored” seem to apply to almost every service company, regardless of what they actually do. Phrases like “pushing the boundaries” and “futuristic design” appear to describe even the most generic products on the market. But the most commonly used word is also the one that rarely applies: “innovative.”
“Innovative thinking,” “next generation innovation” and “innovative design” have become so over-used that they almost don’t mean anything anymore. It’s as though businesses are so keen to jump on the buzzwords of this era that they have forgotten what they actually mean.
Innovation isn’t just about having an idea, it is something that has come from creative thinking, genuinely advancing ideas and bringing something original into the world. In this sense, the vast majority of the companies using the word innovative should really take it off their website!
So what does constitute an innovative business model or idea? How do you achieve true innovation?
Return to Design Principles
If you want to come up with something completely new, you need to have an awareness of what is already out there. But this will only take you so far. While looking at current solutions will help to see how others have solved similar problems can help, you don’t want to be blinded by what you see. Instead, you should take your problem back to design principles and work to solve the problem in the most logical way, not the most common way.
So, let’s say you have a complex business model that requires your staff to work together on projects. But let’s imagine that your staff are located around the world. Let’s further complicate things by imagining that you are planning to double the size of your business over the next five years. What are you going to do?
Well, aside from hiring an expert software development service, you need to think about what your goals are. Do you want to be able to video chat while taking notes? Do you need people to be able to edit the same document at the same time? What do you want your staff to be able to achieve while they are working together?
In this instance, innovation will appear once you have created a program that can accommodate your exacting needs where off-the-shelf products would fail. But ultimately, if your problem could be solved with a simple boardroom meeting, you have to ask whether the innovation was really worth it.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
When you are trying to come up with an innovative new design, it’s all too easy to reinvent the wheel without realizing it. Going back to design principles often leads to the same sensible conclusions. But we can also get caught up in the complex details of what we are trying to achieve, which often leads to creating overly complicated designs that don’t work nearly as well as the simple designs that have come before.
If you want to avoid reinventing the wheel, you must keep an open mind but you must also be practical. Don’t innovate for the sake of the word, innovate because you have to. There’s a good reason that the wheel hasn’t changed very much since its conception but you’ll notice that the small changes that have been made have a huge impact. So, instead of going back to the drawing board every time, it might be worth looking at how you can improve an existing design.
To identify ways to improve any design, you have to understand what you are aiming for. And this means asking the right questions. In some ways, designers are like detectives because they have to work out what the client wants, what the client’s customer expects and what is feasible in design terms right now or in the near future. If you are starting with a solution that fixes some of your problems, asking the right questions can transform the design you have already into something new, unique and genuinely innovative.
Building on a current idea is one of the best ways to innovate but if you truly want to understand innovation, you need to realize that those ideas can come from anywhere. Some of the craziest business start-up ideas came from adapting a solution that works in one industry to the needs of another.
The key to any innovative thought is, as we said in the first section, all about creativity. Like all skills, creativity is something you can train yourself in. We often think of the creative mind as something that is born but the reality is that whether you have a natural proclivity or not, creativity can be honed. To be more creative, you simply need to know where to look.
Creatives are often generalists. That is to say that a creative will often know a little about a lot. Creatives tend to read everything, be open to new experiences and listen to others. Creativity requires that you are interested in everything because you never know where the next idea might come from. As we have already seen, connecting the dots between a design in one industry to a similar problem in another can lead to real innovation but you have to know that these solutions are already there to spot the similarities.
The next rule of creativity is to keep at it. The perfect design rarely appears fully formed overnight in an amazing dream. Ask any inventor what they do most and they will tell you that they spend all their time asking questions and revising their design accordingly. They fail over and over again but persist because their creative vision pushes them on. Just ask James Dyson, who took 15 years and 5,127 prototypes to come up with his revolutionary vacuum cleaner.
As creativity is a skill, it has to be practiced. Don’t give up because something doesn’t work; set a new challenge, find another route and play with solution options. Play in this sense is vital as it will spark your imagination and free your mind of the constraints you naturally apply. Take some time to imagine that everything is possible and see where your mind takes you before you apply real-world logic.
Innovation is rare. Unique innovation is even rarer. To understand what innovation is, you must first realize that the likelihood of achieving it is remote and set your goals accordingly. Instead of focusing on creating something innovative, focusing on designing a solution that fits with your business and your clients is far more worth-while. When you can do that, you are much more likely to stumble across something genuinely innovative in the process.
So what should you say instead of innovative?
Customers want honesty and if innovative isn’t your thing, find something else to sell. Tell your customers that you are working on new things and tell them that you are determined to meet their needs in the best way possible, but save the word “innovative” until you have honestly created something worth the title. Like all words repeated over and over again, “innovative” loses its meaning after a while. If you wait until the perfect moment, it will have the impact you need.
In business, it’s easy to puff out your chest and show off but customers increasingly look for the genuine article. It’s better to be a work in progress than a company that doesn’t understand its need to grow. And that is the innovative mindset at its finest.