UIEtips article: How to Innovate Right Now

Jared Spool

June 3rd, 2008

A few years back, Blockbuster, the video rental business, launched an amazing new service. Customers could select movies from the company’s web site, which Blockbuster would mail to their home. The customers could take as long as they wanted to watch the videos, returning the DVDs any time without late fees, all for a recurring monthly fee. In the four years since its introduction, Blockbuster has signed up a whopping number of subscribers.

It was a brilliant idea, if only Blockbuster had thought of it first. Five years earlier, a little west coast startup named Netflix came up with the idea of home-delivered DVDs. The little startup slayed the established consumer giant by delivering a new and innovative product.

Our clients regularly discuss Netflix’s story. They ask us how they can make their company’s products and services just as successful. Among our recommendations, we always tell these folks to read Scott
Berkun’s research on innovation. Scott, the author of the popular book, the Myths of Innovation, is the expert we recommend clients talk to when they’re struggling to develop innovative designs.

In this week’s issue of our email newsletter, UIEtips, we’ve asked Scott to share an excellent article he’s written on innovation. In his article, Scott offers practical secrets to help you build new and innovative products. I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Read Scott’s article: How to Innovate Right Now.

Are you challenged with creating new products that recreate and capture the market? Is your team struggling to develop innovative designs? Share your thoughts below.

Scott’s research on innovation has led him down the path of studying failure. In particular, why designers fail. You shouldn’t miss his upcoming UIE Virtual Seminar on Why Designers Fail and What to Do About It on April 14, 2009. Learn why you should celebrate failure.

9 Responses to “UIEtips article: How to Innovate Right Now”

  1. Tim Kieschnick Says:

    Like many companies, we think innovation is key to our success. We try to measure the things that are key to our success, but we’re struggling with how to measure how well we innovating. What can our executives look at each month as an indicator of how well we’re fostering innovation?

    Obviously, good innovation should lead to improvements to the bottom line measurements, but I want to focus on the innovation itself, and I want to see our trends over time. Are we innovating better this year than last year? How would I know?

  2. Teresa Says:

    One way to create metrics is to build a portal for innovations. Encourage users to post their ideas – which are then date-stamped and tagged with an owner. Other users can then launch discussions about the idea, and post their own. Ideas can be tagged as relating to each other, or as being able to help each other. The metrics between each reporting period are not only how many new ideas are posted, but also the number of users posting comments, and the number of ideas that have gone on or contributed to bigger things. The portal also allows for giving kudos, which will actually encourage more contributions.

  3. Scott Berkun Says:

    Innovation is a lousy word – it’s so subjective, so often abused and has so many meanings that measuring it directly is impossible. I would never ask the question “How well are you innovating?”. I don’t know what that even means. I might ask “how creative are we?” or “How many risks do we take?” or more importantly “Do we add significant value to our product every release?” as those are much simpler, firmer concepts to work with.

    So Teresa misuses the word – a portal where ideas are posted are commented on is not “a portal of innovations”, unless those ideas are implemented and create significant positive changes. A place for idea exchanges can be good, but that’s not the measuring of innovations, it’s simply an idea message board. Giving kudos is nice, but requires no skill, creativity or risk – measure kudos and you’ll see lots of kudos, but few innovations.

    It’s better instead to look at the factors that make innovation possible and measure those.

    These include:

    - The frequency with which new ideas are suggested
    - The frequency with which new ideas are implemented
    - Management actions that reward people for proposing ideas
    - How frequently projects are empowered to take creative risks

    But even with these, I’m loathe to create an innovation index. Any time you measure something with too much vigor, people will game the system and play to your measurements instead of to the results.

    It’s always interesting to ask the question: what do the most innovative companies or teams measure? And as far as I can tell, Apple, Google, Pixar, etc. don’t do very much measurement. Their success as innovators has more to do with the willingness of their leaders to take risks than any special measurement tool.

  4. Daniel Szuc Says:

    Google AdWords: A Brief History Of Online Advertising Innovation – http://publishing2.com/2008/05/27/google-adwords-a-brief-history-of-online-advertising-innovation/

    “Google’s search advertising model didn’t spring forth fully formed. It was iterated, and many of the key concepts were borrowed — something many people don’t realize.”

  5. Yura Says:

    Scott, do you think it is impossible to track creation of great new things with measuring the process? What if people, who create and implement ideas, are not aware that the statistics is being gathered? What if the management explicitly says that they use statistics for information, not to measure how well someone is working?

    Do you think this approach can fly or not?

    Thanks.

  6. Scott Berkun Says:

    I wouldn’t say impossible – I’d say improbable. Would you track statistics on Picasso? Da Vinci? Scorsese? John Lennon? Data and trends mean much less when you’re talking about creativity than when you’re talking about efficiency. Not sure tracking the number of notes Beethoven writes on paper every day would tell you much about how creative he was or was not on that day.

    I just don’t know of any organization that sees data collection as the key secret to what makes them effective at producing creative work. Even the Google 20% time thing is more a spirit than a mathematical equation. Culture and attitude count way more than stats and rules when it comes to managing innovation.

  7. Marta Says:

    I have a similar view to Scott’s; I think innovation should not be measured at the end, but rather enabled and health-checked at the beginning. Just like a recipe that you follow to make an excellent dish, there are several key factors that lead towards a successful outcome of your innovation program. The trick is to find the recipe that works for your company, since there are many ways to make a good meal, but not all meals suit all tastes. And the whole process starts with defining your taste, in other words – what do you want to achieve through innovation. Once you know what you want, and work out the recipe for making it happen, the metrics is a simple “yes” or “no” next to the “goals achieved” box.
    Although this sounds very simple, the recipe is hard to get right, because the slightest variation to the ingredients can make your Sacher cake become a useless sticky dark mass.
    Ah! and you also need a good chef to get their hands dirty.

  8. Yura Says:

    Sure, but aren’t there some metrics that indirect lead to describing innovation? Surely, netting a total of 5 new ideas introduced per month wouldn’t count for much, unless they are a) implemented and b) bring in profits. Would you oppose to such data tracking?

  9. Laura H. Says:

    Jared, thanks for your blog, I always enjoy it. Blockbuster (although it was not the originator of the idea) did innovate with this new service. Creativity is combining existing elements in new ways, or coming up with new ideas as we more often think of it.

    It didn’t take brilliant hot creative to do this; Netflix had blazed a trail. But it was a big leap for Blockbuster to trust people to take movies home for unspecified time. It was innovative to their business and probably brought back old customers as well as new ones. Because Netflix had taught the public about the service (with numerous PI direct mails — how many of those free discs did I throw away?) Blockbuster had it a little bit easier introducing their “new” service.

    What Blockbuster did right was to do what customers wanted (as demonstrated by their competitor) which was brilliant hot.

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