Did you know that the vast majority of new inventions that focus groups ask for never achieve market success?  The reason is that customers often can’t conceive anything beyond new and improved.  And that means, in the words of Henry Ford, that consumers would have asked for a faster horse that ate less.  Back in the days of the Sony Walkman, could you have envisioned an iPod or iTunes? You need an innovation process that anticipates what people want before they even know it.

This example above is why focus groups and market research often fail to uncover opportunities to innovate.  Customers do their best to tell us what they want, but we’ve abdicated our responsibility to connect the dots using our knowledge, skill, and creativity.

It’s not our customers’ job to tell us what they want.  It’s our job to understand the problems and challenges they’re dealing with in their business or their life, and then use our expertise to develop solutions that save them time, save or make them money, solve their problem, create a feel good, or provide peace of mind.  The true source of innovation lies in an innovation process that involves reconnecting with our customers in more authentic and exploratory ways.

Discover Innovation Opportunities in the B2B World

In the corporate world, I teach my clients the fine art of the Value Creation Conversation.  Leaders from both firms meet face to face to explore value-add gaps and opportunities by drilling down on 7 specific areas. Although the questions asked are understandably different for every company based on their products or services, a couple of my favorites include asking customers what makes them say “Damn, I wish this thing…” or what makes them roll their eyes in frustration when doing business together. These questions that tap into right-brain emotional thinking vs. left-brain logical thinking, are guaranteed to get a laugh, and almost always produce an honest answer that surfaces an opportunity for innovation.  Sam Palmisano, the retired CEO and Chair of IBM, used this innovation process technique in the meetings he held with customers every single day of his long tenure and credits the customer insights he gained for helping IBM innovate away from the increasingly commoditized PC business and into the “Build a Smarter Planet” use of big data.

Discover Innovation Opportunities in the B2C World

In the consumer space, I’m increasingly a fan of the way crowdfunding delivers real-time market feedback on whether a customer would actually put down cold hard cash to purchase a concept – a simple and inexpensive form of market research with much more accurate results than conventional approaches.  The most successful campaigns with Kickstarter or some of the other crowdfunding sites enable inventors to engage their potential buyers in refining a concept – turning cool inventions into value-add innovation.  Ideas can be conceived, tested, and refined with minimal R&D investment upfront, and the potential marketplace finances the R&D required to go to market.  If you haven’t yet pivoted your conventional innovation practices to take advantage of the high-value feedback of the crowdfunding process, your starting point is to simply take a look at a few of the sites for a real eye-opener on what is possible in terms of the innovation process.

Tap into the Geek Factor in B2B and B2C

Crowdsourcing is yet another way to drive innovation by tapping into the collective problem-solving consciousness.  Stumped by a customer need that you can’t figure out a solution for?  Create a contest and put it out there for talented geeks everywhere to take a crack at.  Proctor and Gamble successfully overcame their “not invented here” mentality when they used crowdsourcing in their search for the next $1B product.  In the corporate world, crowdsourcing has been used to overcome thorny engineering and data-driven problem solving.

Your Innovation Process Takeaway

Innovation that consists of locking some of your customers in a room for a focus group or locking some of your people in a room and asking them to think outside the box has gone the way of the buggy whip.  It’s time to use the 21 Paths to Innovation as a filter to spark innovation, get nose-to-nose with your customers to determine where there are value gaps that you can fill, or tap into crowdfunding and crowd sourcing.  Adding value in innovative ways is where all the fun is in your business, and these are fun processes to discover how to light up your innovative process in 2017.

#1 Bestselling Author, International Speaker, and Accelerator Anne C. Graham is on a mission to help 5 million business leaders and their teams double their profit per employee – or more – in less than one year, in less time per week than they’re spending on email per day. Her new book Profit in Plain Sight includes the 5-step proactive P.R.O.F.I+T Plan to do it.  Connect with Anne on Twitter and LinkedIn.