Innovation and Business: 4 Stages of the Effective Innovation Process

Inspiration to Innovation: Putting Creativity to Practice

We had the pleasure of joining a DePaul MBA class for a program on cultivating innovation in business with Ben Brenton of Snap-On Tools and Teri Hamann of SAP. During the program, several best practices emerged on putting creativity into action. 

Innovation isn’t something that can be implemented overnight, it takes a culture change. First, when building your innovation team, it is important to leverage members from all facets of the business, just people that work in that area. When building that team it’s also important to seek out traits that are synonymous with creative minds.

Key Traits for Innovators:

  • Extremely Curious: You need people who are always seeking out new things and ideas.
  • Story Tellers: A good idea can only get you so far. You need someone that can paint that idea into something tangible that can help the decision-makers buy in.
  • Risk-Takers: Innovation and real change can’t come about without risk.
  • Customer-Centric: You need people who focus their efforts on helping the customer.

Innovation Process:

This process needs to be focused on the customers’ needs. Make sure you’re checking in with the customer during all stages to make sure you’re still innovating for their needs.

Step #1) Connect with Customers: Identify Customer Insights

  • Get out and explore. Identify the customers’ problems and pains first hand. Understand what they need and how you can help better their situation.

Step #2) Listen & Observe

  • Pay attention! Ask concrete questions, while really listening and caring about their answers. Have empathy for their problems. Remember, this is about THEM, not you. Look for what others might not see.

Step #3) Generate Ideas & Prototypes

  • Based on what you’ve learned, brainstorm ideas that fulfill a real need: either by creating a solution for an unmet need or by delivering a superior alternative. Prototype quickly, don’t focus on quality at this stage. Get the prototypes to your customers and test them.

Step #4) Execute

  • Once you’ve tested your solutions with customers, go win over the decision-makers in your business. With the knowledge you have gained, you can effectively sell the story to investors, more effectively market the product, and increase internal engagement in finding a solution.   

Key Takeaways for Creating Innovation

  • Focus on Customer Needs: Always take a step back and look at the customers’ needs from their perspective. Don’t ever assume to know what they need.
  • Focus on Simplification: Making things easier drives innovation. Make it easier on you by simplifying your processes. Make it easier on the customer by simplifying their life.
  • Focus on Change: Just because something has always been done that way, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Nothing is off limits.
  • Focus on Early Adoption: Today’s market shows that businesses who are early adopters of change are succeeding and innovating at a higher rate.

Innovation doesn’t happen overnight, it takes hard work and strategic planning. There’s no one singular roadmap for success in innovation. But, if you put in the necessary due-diligence to learn and understand the obstacles your customers face, your value will only increase. Businesses everywhere are doing all they can to increase revenues, market share and gain stronger footholds in similar markets. Innovation is growth and without growth we are stagnant. Terri Hamann of SAP put it best when she said, “we have to innovate, or we die.”

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