As a part of a Babson College MBA program I recently read that IDEO, a Silicon Valley-based design firm, was hired to create a more modern grocery-shopping cart. The first thing they did was visit the client site and observe customers using the current model. By walking through the store and watching how the carts were being used uncovered a plethora of pain points and ideas for innovation. It became clear what wasn’t working and why.
The first step in improving your product or service has to be to go into the field and observe current usage patterns. And for a small business, this is the only way you’ll be able to adapt your product/service offerings to create a strategic advantage for your customers—this is especially critical when selling to large companies with established suppliers.
I’ve learned to never accept things that aren’t working for you or your customer. Instead, focus your resources on ways to make it better. Make prototypes. Incentivize your team to innovate based on their observations. This can be amazingly fun and rewarding—and in the end, effective.
Loosely translated, the framework for innovation covers these five steps:
- Understand the market, the client, the technology, and perceptions of “the problem”.
- Observe real people and find out what they like, what they find confusing, and what needs are currently not being addressed.
- Visualize and brainstorm the new product or service and how it will affect the customers, then build models and prototypes.
- Evaluate and refine the prototypes. Seek constructive feedback and then go through a series of improvements.
- Implement the new concept.
For further reading, I highly recommend “The Art of Innovation” and “The Ten Faces of Innovation” by Tom Kelley. Have an innovative and entrepreneurial day!!
And please post feedback to the group if you try this out and have some success.
Kate Thorne Meyers, President, CEO
Brown & Meyers, Inc.
Phone: (207) 772-6732
Phone: (800) 785-7505
Cell: (207) 233-1276
May 2012: The Supplier Spotlight Monthly SBE Contest.
Sponsored by Supplier-Connection – An initiative of major US companies committed to spending more with US-based small businesses.