For innovation: Non-obvious needs are often the richest source of new insights

Innovation comes from leaving known shores and stepping into the unknown. This means being aware that you don’t have all the answers. So, you need to go out and discover new insights…

So, what’s an insight? Insights are unexpected shifts in the way we understand how things work.

They can be broken down into two categories:

According to Gary Klein, author of Seeing what others don’t, there are three ways to detect/acquire insights:

  • Exploit anomalies. These are the things that just don’t fit. For example, many people believe AirBnB is an anomaly that will eventually fail because it just doesn’t fit with the concept of traditional hotels. Others believe it’s an anomaly of a much larger story, one of the Collaborative and Sharing Economy. Who do you think has a better grasp on what’s going on?
  • Explore a new perspective. So much about innovation is about perspective and attitude. So, a simple way to explore a new perspective is to simply ask yourself provocative questions to get you thinking differently. Another way is to immerse yourself in an unknown domain, in people’s lives.
  • Embrace urgency. This is an interesting one because when we’re used to taking our time and set into a predictable routine, any change to that routine will snap us out of zombie mode. For the purpose of innovation, I’ve talked about forcefully pushing boundaries and putting your business in do or die scenarios when none exist at the moment to generate unforeseen errors.

I’ll add a fourth one:

  • Pay attention to your senses. This is purely a perceptual occurrence where you discern a situation without having to consult with someone else. For example, you might be able to discern without having to ask anyone, as I did, that people didn’t enter an innovative new green building in Tijuana because there were lightly armed guards that looked like someone’s bodyguards in the entrance.

These different ways of detecting and acquiring insights work in conjunctions with one another, but for me, being truly insightful involves immersing yourself into the world of your customers to try to see how things look from their viewpoint. The focus is on watching, not talking.

How do you detect insights for innovation?

Detecting and acquiring insights requires awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Awareness is essentially being mindful of cultural and social constructs that surround you and the people for whom you are creating something new. And, another layer is the awareness that your experience could be inhibiting you from seeing things anew.

Usually when thinking about innovation we focus on articulated needs and desires; the pain points people already have. These are the undeniable truths that are easy to identify because they are already there. But, more interesting and insightful than pain points are tensions points. These are unarticulated signs of pain that could become a major pain at some point.

So, a good rule of thumb when hunting for insights is this: If there’s no tension there’s no insight.

There are a a few ways to detect tension points:

  • Specific statements. It really comes down to the way people express displeasure…Because I’ve found it really useful, I’ll use Maddock Douglas’ insight statement framework to illustrate how this works in practice: I __FACT__ because __WHY___ but ___ HASSLE___. What comes after the “but” is the tension.
  • Workarounds. These are quick and ready fixes that people have created to “work around” less than ideal solutions.  For example, this improvised tape handle that someone made to carry a large box.
  • Values. These play an important role in people’s motivations. What do they value? What’s important to them? What’s not? Tension is often present when a product, service, or experience is in conflict with the values they find desirable. This can reveal important shifts in the qualities people find meaningful.
  • Inertia. The more established people’s habits, the higher the inertia, meaning they’re less motivated to consider alternative choices.
  • Shoulds and wants. There is often a struggle with the tension between wants, what we crave at the moment, and shoulds, which is what we know is good for us in the long term.

As I wrote last week, insight hunting is contextual, it should take place in the context where people use your product and service, and where they experience your brand.

Key Takeaways

  • If you’re encumbered by the past, you can’t see possibility.
  • Being insightful isn’t a question of talent, it’s a question of awareness.
  • To cultivate insights and uncover opportunities, you need to observe the telling moments that reveal what people actually feel and do; as opposed to what they say they feel.
  • Non-obvious needs are often the richest source of new insights.
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