How to identify innovation opportunities

Innovation is a process that stymies many companies. They’re so eager to find their next big breakthrough that they don’t realize that innovation is a simple process that anyone can learn.

It’s not a matter of waiting and waiting till you hit a home run. Successful innovation is all about getting the basics right every day, and hitting lots of singles.

One innovative-thinking technique we use at Spyder Works is the “Rule or Guideline?” game. We ask clients to write down a list of all the rules at their businesses that they know they mustn’t break. These lists invariably include laws, safety rules and industry regulations, but also lots of conventions, rules of thumbs, best practices and bad habits. We then ask the clients to cross off all the rules that have been legislatively imposed – the rules where an authority can actually punish you for violating. You don’t want to break those rules.

What you have left is a list of guidelines that your organization or industry has created – many of which are now deadweights, like barnacles that have to be constantly scraped off the side of navy ships. Turn those mental barriers inside out, and you suddenly become open to all kinds of innovative thoughts and ideas.

Let’s say you’re a producer of consumer and commercial glues. The No. 1 rule is that your product has to stick things together securely, right? After all, what good is a glue that doesn’t stick very well? The 3M scientist who questioned that assumption, that “given”, that idea-limiting “rule,” created a huge new product called Post-It Notes.

Innovation isn’t invention: It’s a series of little steps that lead to big breakthroughs. You need to learn to question your assumptions about what your products are and do, and rethink your connection with your customers.

We ask our clients to find time to regularly think about the needs of their customers. What frustrates them or prevents our clients from delivering greater value to their clients? How could our product or services help them with those problems? These are the million-dollar questions that can help you identify gaps where other organizations would be willing to pay good money for your innovative solutions.

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