Updated: Jul 8, 2020
Where do you look for innovation ideas?
If you're like many companies, you look to your customers. And that's intuitive. After all, as they say, "the customer is always right," right? If you want to offer something that customers want, it seems only natural to ask them what they want or how current products should be improved.
The standard methods for gathering customer input include conducting focus groups; collecting customer feedback from sales, customer service and other customer-interfacing employees; and launching survey after survey, asking customers what they want.
Some companies even sponsor "open innovation tournaments," where they invite anybody with a computer mouse to weigh in on what their next product should look like.
And, trying to be helpful, customers do their best to oblige, by putting on their designer hats and providing prolific input:
Make it easier to use. Smaller. More durable. Easier to open. Lighter-weight. Heavier-duty. More powerful. Less powerful. More options. Not so many options.
It's a veritable fire hose of information.
Now you have a lengthy list of product or feature ideas, usually containing hundreds or even thousands of specific items. Many of these ideas either conflict with other items on the list, are ambiguous or unintelligible, defy the laws of physics, would render the product un-manufacturable, or are simply bad ideas.
Look, I love customers. We all love customers, because, let's face it: Customers pay everyone's salary.
But this "Unqualified Advice" approach to innovation only results in frustration for everyone:
For the customers, because they're being asked to be experts on things they know nothing about.
For your development team, because they're being asked to interpret and prioritize thousands of subjective, conflicting and frankly confusing pieces of input.
For your innovation team, because this introduces variability, unnecessary cost, delays, chance and risk into the innovation process.
For you, because the success rate of your product launches resembles a blind-folded dart game, which stifles growth, momentum, ROI and company value.
And again for the customers, because despite their thoughtful advice, they usually end up being offered a product that isn't what they wanted.
Do yourself and all your stakeholders a favor: Stop outsourcing your product development to people who know nothing about it. You've hired talented Engineering, R&D and Product Design people. They're the experts at designing and manufacturing products. All they need in order to do that job spectacularly is objective, clear, prioritized DATA about the design objective, or in other words, the JOB the customer is buying the product to help them get done.
Fortunately, the customer IS always right about the very innovation topic you should care the most about: Their Job-To-Be-Done.
So ask them about THAT. Flesh it out COMPLETELY. Put it under a microscope. Geek out on it. Internalize it. Roll around in it. Measure it and quantify it. Make it un-misunderstandable. Then let your internal experts develop around it.
By maintaining the natural swim lanes of expertise (customers on their Job-To-Be-Done; engineers on product development), you'll be able to develop better products, faster, less expensively, at lower risk and higher return.
No more "guessovation."