Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The most powerful innovation tools

I was leading a training session with a client today when one of the folks in attendance looked at me and said - this isn't rocket science.  I had to agree.  In my experience most of the really interesting tools and techniques for innovation, the ones that create real insight, are fairly simple, but in their simplicity force the team to look at its products and services in a completely new light.

Take, for example, my favorite "low hanging" fruit - the scenario plan.  A scenario plan can be built by a few well trained executives in a workshop in a day or two, using trends and market information gathered over a few days or weeks.  There are several published methodologies to follow, and if you need a good facilitator to walk you through the effort, we're available.  Total effort, less than you spend fighting most "fires".  Total value - the identification of emerging opportunities and possible threats to your business, with enough lead time to act accordingly.  Why every firm, every product group doesn't conduct at least two scenario planning sessions a year is beyond me.  They are easy to do, help you gain advance insight on critical markets, and can help position your firm in a leadership position instead of a reactive situation.

Or, another favorite tool, the one that sparked the "this isn't rocket science" comment - the customer experience journey.  This tool documents the lifecycle of a customer as they become aware of your offerings, become a customer, use your products, services and support, and remain a customer or leave.  Understanding the lifecycle of the customer and critical touchpoints, we can discover "moments of truth" where the customer has different expectations of service or interaction than we do.  Simply put, we are trying to be "intentional" about our design for customer experience.  What's powerful about this tool is not in its bells and whistles.  There really aren't very many.  What's powerful is that few firms think about the "journey" and these critical interactions and design the customer experience.  There are a number of potential opportunities to innovate around a customer experience, and studies show time and time again that the two most compelling innovation types are innovations around business models and innovations to create unique customer experiences.

I'm sure that many of you seek very interesting and robust methodologies and tools to further your innovation efforts, and some of them may actually be useful.  I suspect that a good rule of thumb is that the most robust or difficult the tools is to understand and use, the less real insight and value it creates, while very simple tools - scenario planning and customer journey mapping as two examples - create value because they force you to adopt very different perspectives than are typical.  Often times the simplest tools are the most powerful and most robust.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 9:11 PM


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