Develop innovations with system

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Do you want to deve­lop inno­va­tions that meet the needs of your tar­get group? Then you should take one cen­tral and par­ti­cu­larly hel­pful basic prin­ci­ple to heart.

It was a few years ago when we inves­ti­ga­ted the poten­tial of a music strea­ming pro­vi­der in Ger­many. At that time, this ser­vice was alre­ady popu­lar, espe­ci­ally in Scan­di­na­via, but not yet estab­lished in this coun­try. Par­ti­ci­pants in group dis­cus­sions were very skep­ti­cal. Pay­ing monthly for access to your music wit­hout owning it is like going to a pro­sti­tute whore­house. After all, you love your music and are con­nec­ted to it through a shared history.

If we had taken the con­su­mers’ wis­hes at face value back then, we would have had to urgen­tly advise our cli­ent against a launch in Ger­many. But we did­n’t. Ins­tead, we took a clo­ser look at the needs behind the wis­hes. Sure, there’s the desire for an audi­ble bio­gra­phy, which for some time now has been tied to one’s own “record coll­ec­tion” — but there’s no real need for music owner­ship. This see­med to us more like a tem­po­rary cul­tu­ral phe­no­me­non, trig­ge­red by the inven­tion of the vinyl record and alre­ady in the pro­cess of slowly dis­ap­pearing again with the CD and MP3 play­ers. In addi­tion, there are still needs for mood modu­la­tion, for a por­ta­ble emo­tio­nal phar­macy, for inspi­ra­tion and a lot more. The recom­men­da­tion was the­r­e­fore: Do it!

In inno­va­tion pro­ces­ses, too, queried desi­res are not a relia­ble indi­ca­tor of the poten­tial of new offe­rings. Con­su­mers find it hard to ima­gine them, they deve­lop initial resis­tance, who wants to change their habits? They behave like the peo­ple in Kai­ser Wilhelm’s time, who — as is rumo­red — wan­ted fas­ter hor­ses ins­tead of cars.

This is where a very important, cen­tral and par­ti­cu­larly hel­pful basic prin­ci­ple of inno­va­tion deve­lo­p­ment comes into play: abs­trac­tion. Away from the con­crete wis­hes. Ins­tead, unco­ver the fun­da­men­tal need behind it and deve­lop the inno­va­tion pre­cis­ely for this pur­pose. Only then does the view become free for new or truly dis­rup­tive innovations.

This prin­ci­ple is also known from the TRIZ inven­tion method. It is rather unknown in mar­ke­ting cir­cles, because it refers to tech­ni­cal inven­ti­ons, but uses the same basic prin­ci­ple. It was deve­lo­ped in the 1950s in what was then the Soviet Union. In TRIZ, a tech­ni­cal pro­blem is first abs­trac­ted at a hig­her level. Then an abs­tract solu­tion is found and brought back down to a con­crete solu­tion. An exam­ple: Ins­tead of the ques­tion “How do I improve a lawn mower?”, the ques­tion is: “How do I make the lawn short? The con­crete solu­tion can then also be a gene­ti­cally modi­fied lawn that stops gro­wing at 5 cm.

Trans­fer­red to inno­va­tions for con­su­mers, the abs­tract ques­tion is of course about the actual needs. In the exam­ple of music strea­ming, for exam­ple, it was the need for per­ma­nently available mood modu­la­tion. For the nost­al­gics, vinyl — for this tar­get group, vinyl has even taken off again — but for ever­yone else, please, music strea­ming. Cars ins­tead of hor­ses, so to speak.

Our expert tip: Be careful with inno­va­tion pro­ces­ses and methods that claim to be con­su­mer-cen­tric, but are based directly on their wis­hes and do not take this step towards abs­trac­tion (wit­hout wan­ting to men­tion spe­ci­fic methods, such as Design Thin­king, by name). Your ideas will be more dis­rup­tive and user-ori­en­ted if you approach them with a system.

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