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4 min read

What is innovation?

We’ve been asked to give a talk at one of Super Fast South Yorkshire’s events (The Art of the Possible). They are offering SME’s match funding for ‘transformational innovation’. For Paper that immediately begs the question, what is innovation?

This is a really hard question to answer. There are a few definitions but it’s difficult to define it for any business. We’re going to forget about the word and its definition and focus on one outcome. ‘To create something new which meets a currently unarticulated need’ as that’s what we do here at Paper.

‘To create something new which meets a currently unarticulated need’ as that’s what we do here at Paper.

We’re not focusing on invention or crazy new ideas, we’re interested in how we can take a problem or a need from your users and challenge the solution (user as in someone who uses your service or product, regardless of if they’re purchasing anything or not).

You may (by understanding the user’s journey through your service in detail) uncover areas to innovate. That may be by meeting a need in an innovative way or even creating an entirely new service or product.

Identifying the need

It’s important that when you first identify a need or a problem to treat it as an assumption which is to be validated by testing it with your representative users. Understanding the needs of your users who will be affected by your idea is the best way to start framing a problem.

when you first identify a need or a problem to treat it as an assumption which is to be validated by testing it with your representative users.

It’s important to note that we are looking at ‘needs’ not ‘wants’. Your idea must meet a real need if it’s going to be successful.

Here is an example of a want

“I want Office 365 as it’s a really great tool.”

Here is an example of a need

“I need to collaborate with my colleagues in a more efficient way by working on a document all at the same time with my colleagues.”

Yes a solution to the need might be Office 365, but it might not be the most effective and it might require other things changing to support it. You might also have to remove physical paper from your processes or even simplify those processes altogether.

Meeting a need and solving a problem

By starting small and testing as you go you will reduce the risk of any significant cost of change later on. As your confidence in the idea builds you can start increasing the resources dedicated to developing your idea.

By starting small and testing as you go you will reduce the risk of any significant cost of change later on

Think about your idea like a product, what are the benefits of your product, what is the big picture? What’s the overall goal and what is the highest priority goal for the first iteration of your product? How are you going to measure it?

Take a simple approach to problem solving. Map out a possible user journey. Sketch your idea, challenge yourself to approach the problem differently with each sketch. You really don’t need to hire a design agency to start this process, but you do to complete it. If you’re not that confident, find a design agency that can work with you to develop your ideas and test your proposition.

Creating the environment to innovate

Not everyone can be innovative, you may need help. New ideas are difficult to come by, and are difficult to deliver.

Creating space to be innovative for your team is vitally important. If your team is constantly working on business as usual they’ll never have time to lift their heads up to look at new ways of doing things. Also bear in mind the people closest to the user are the best people to listen to, but don’t treat their word as gospel, treat it as an assumption you need to validate by spending time with your users.

Additionally you may need experts to be able to see past business as usual. It’s tough when you work in a process every day to look laterally and decide something needs to change, especially if you’re not confident with digital.

Ok, what’s next?

There’s many ways to get started. One way to get started is for you to have a go at taking these keys points (below) and getting started yourself or you could have a chat with us to see if we can help you get going. Whatever you do, please remember these key points:

  1. Identify needs, not wants
  2. Design solutions that meet the need
  3. Test your prototype early and frequently
  4. Create an environment that opens up what you’re doing and invites collaboration