To innovate start with inspiration, not need

In the world of innovation, we routinely talk about addressing needs as a starting point to frame our thinking. That is what the vast majority of innovation approaches, and practitioners, consultants; preach. There is a huge industry that is booming at the moment because of this, and a dominant model is slowly taking over both the startup and corporate world: Lean Startup.

We can sum up The Lean Startup like this: identify a need that isn’t being addressed, think of a solution, validate that solution with potential customers, iterate to get close to a solution as fast as possible.

While I don’t disagree with addressing people’s needs, I do believe that is a limited view over the long run. It is simple logic, how long does it take for a framework to become a best practice? And, how long until we have undifferentiated products and services?

For this reason, in my workshops, I like to get people to redesign/rethink things for themselves. As I take them through a process of thinking critically about what’s around them, I tell them to “look beyond the problem and see possibilities”, and then create something for themselves.


Unleash the visionary within

I believe people need to be unleashed. And, to highlight this point, I use the automotive industry as an example. You see, in the automotive industry we still see “one man’s vision” driving every detail. While we all know of the Porsche’s, Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s of the world, no one told Horacio Pagani that the world needed another super car.

I don’t think he did market research to see if there were potential buyers. Yet, he set out to create his own version of “the ultimate super car”: The Pagani Zonda.

Of course, Horacio Pagani didn’t build the whole car himself, but the vision for “what it should be” was, and still is, his.

While not all automotive companies operate the same way, some still do so in the smallest of ways. In the picture below you can see a Mercedes Benz mechanic hard at work putting together an AMG engine.

The AMG models may not be the idea of a single mind, but, the way they are put together is.

True courage lies in being inspired to act

Need and possibility are different. Up to a point, identifying needs follows a systematic process. On the other hand, seeing a world of possibilities, is more of a feeling. For me, it starts with a dissatisfaction with the status quo. With that said, I believe it to be exhilarating to experience another person’s creation, because the focus is completely different to my own needs, I may discover something I never thought about.

We could make a strong case that the most innovative companies in the world  are driven by inspiration first, needs second. The Jobs’, Disney’s, Porsche’s, Pagani’s place a premium on delivering inspiring products, services and experiences. As a result, each time we interact with them we are moved to think and act differently.

That’s interesting.

On the other hand, I know a lot of entrepreneurs who follow the needs based mindset, and what I have found is that they routinely come up with uninspired solutions.

Bottom line: Whether your vision comes from a dissatisfaction with the status quo, or something else, inspiration is a game-changer.

What do you think? Are you more needs oriented? Please chime in, I would love to know your opinion…


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  • I’m feeling a little bit of both here. My coaching and consulting practice is built around inspiration: Can you really live well with less stuff and limited means in an expensive city? My buying club was started around a need: Why are my neighbors schlepping bags of high-end groceries from 4-10 miles away? In both cases, I was inspired to identify solutions, but there’s untapped possibility in creating a liveable world that doesn’t require tons of money or stuff to live well.