Where do breakthrough ideas – and innovative products – come from?

Feb 28, 2019

This is a question that companies and manufacturers grapple with year after year. Some believe it’s from the product development team; or perhaps better stated, they expect it to come from this team. While innovative products often come to life because of the product development team and their specific skill sets, answering the “where” question is far less obvious.

The short answer is this: innovative products come from diverse and cross-functional teams.

While this might not sound like a clear roadmap, the reality is that it’s always about having the right people at the table and a willingness to continuously bring in new perspectives. A give and take of ideas and questioning from people who look at the work and the product differently is what matters.

 

THE ANATOMY OF INNOVATION: A DIVERSE TEAM AT WORK

Our work with an industrial manufacturing leader serves as an example of how breakthrough ideas and innovative products emerge from diverse teams.

Our client wanted to create a remote technology that would significantly benefit its users through increased productivity, reduced operator fatigue and improved safety. Although there were several steps involved using a human-centered design approach to bring their innovative product to life, getting to the idea required them to twist their thinking as usual by embracing these three necessary tenets.

 

1. Having an Open Mindset

Following a process of discovery that is free from the constraints of a company’s typical approach or process, is key to unlocking the next great idea. Our client was willing to disrupt the paradigm of previous success and break the mold, while also placing value on collaboration and a design thinking approach.

This foundational perspective is what permits discovery and propels a hunger for finding what others don’t have the tenacity to search for. As we’ve experienced, witnessing this freedom to think differently exudes new levels of optimism and desire to develop something outside the confines of what’s already in the manufacturer’s sweet spot.

 

2. Committing to Engage Different Stakeholders

We held discovery meetings with the client to listen to what various stakeholders had to say, from R&D to engineering team members and even sales teams that weren’t involved in the product development process. We gained an accurate assessment of the issues at hand, which included concerns about the existing product that would need to be addressed if we wanted to reach an innovative outcome.

Customer insights were also critical. An on-site visit to a distribution center allowed for product users to share their experiences as well as their aspirational thoughts on what could enhance the next generation of this product. The takeaway is simple: the more people you talk to, the more insights you glean to point you toward something entirely new and useful.

 

3. Securing Required Expertise

As with most companies that engage us, there is often an obstacle or barrier related to their skills and resources that prevent them from bringing an innovation to life. In the case of this client, that specific gap was in Bluetooth technology. Because this expertise didn’t exist in-house, it would’ve been hard for them to imagine an innovation that included this technology, if not for assembling a diverse internal team with external partners. It takes a broad range of skill sets to create an innovative product.

In the end, we helped our client develop a product that achieved its stated objectives while also securing an industry award for innovation. And we’re not done yet. Together, we’re at work on breaking that mold and finding new ways to bring the next innovation to this product line.

To be clear, innovation requires far more than the three tenets outlined above (visualize our full process for innovation strategy here). But without a diverse team willing to think, engage and tackle the work differently, most next generation ideas will be far from innovative.

 

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