Innovation is critical if companies want to succeed instead of only staying afloat. Yet while everyone wants to innovate, not everyone knows how to. However, understanding of what innovation is varies from one company to another, therefore, some believe they are performing better than others, but are they? Isn't there a definition of innovation that fits all industries?
Innovation, as a phenomenon, is widely discussed and often overused. It is a victim of a 'buzzword dictionary’- a word everyone uses, but often don't understand how to apply in practice. Thus, when teams are asked to innovate, often they don't know what exactly they are trying to achieve.
If we look in the business dictionary, innovation means a process of translating an idea into goods or services that can create value or for which customers will pay. Processes must include creativity and imagination, and some think innovation itself is a way of being more creative, whereas it’s much more complex in nature. To simplify, it's worth referring to innovation as a measurement of an end result, whereas 'how to innovate' as a measurement of creativity.
This way of thinking is important when working on a new product, and the approach of it is what differentiates one company's success from another company's failure. Throughout product development, some may use open innovation to seek inspiration, whilst others may try traditional approaches, but the key is not a type of innovation strategy - it’s a specific way of thinking that leads to its execution.
One such approach is called design thinking. Although design is often used to describe the end result or an object, it can also be a process for solving problems and discovering new opportunities on a strategic level. Some call it a 'problem-solving protocol', others understand it as a 'strategy that creates an organizational culture focused on solving problems for the end user', but whatever the formal definition is, design thinking can truly have an impact on innovation
The process of design thinking can be split into four steps, including the definition of a problem, creating and considering options for its solution, refining directions, and execution. These steps don't offer something that a strategist or an entrepreneur wouldn't already have in their skill set, the advantage lies in applying those steps repetitively, so they work automatically, boosting efficiency and productivity.
When defining a problem using design thinking, the main focus is on observation, meaning teams should look at the problem as observers rather than participants. This is achieved by using imagination, allowing 'the observer' to see the problem from different angles. This also involves asking yourself questions, criticizing and judging your own decisions on the existing problem. Eventually, the practice will allow you to isolate yourself from 'gut feelings', and it will be easier to come up with a balanced view, a better prioritization of tasks, and an understanding of what the core problems are.
Once problems are defined, there may be a temptation to solve them the same way they were solved last time - because it's easier. Design thinking suggests that even if the solution lies on the surface, all options must be taken into consideration, as this would yield better results in terms of quality.
Once the well thought out solution is there, it should be nurtured. Even the best of ideas can fail if they are not approached with creativity. Design thinking promotes an environment where teams can experiment with their ideas, and where mistakes are treated as an important part of product development. After each experiment, smaller ideas and experiences from learned mistakes can be incorporated into the main project, making it a product with a sophisticated structure, rather than another working prototype.
Prototypes of solutions have been created and it's time to harvest results. At this stage, the defined problem is solved or the opportunity has been discovered, and the project can undergo final testing before launch. Design thinking is a cycle, and the core of it is in repeating all stages until this way of thinking is embedded in your innovation strategy at all times. After each cycle: evaluate, learn, create, innovate, repeat.