It’s a daunting reality for today’s executives: consumers can provide feedback with the tap of a finger. Just ask United Airlines about the havoc social media can wreak. On the flip side, this empowerment is also a tremendous opportunity for innovators.
I believe we’re lucky to be innovating at a time when it’s so easy for customers to give us their ideas and feedback. Collaborating with customers at the front end of innovation is critical to building truly customer-centric products and services, making the most of your innovation dollars, and mitigating the risk of a public backlash or loss of brand trust and equity.
What starts at the front end can move through an agile process of ideation and development, one that integrates the customer through roll-out, communications, measurement and optimization.
At CMB, we help clients innovate through a Design Thinking framework—including the customer in all phases: Empathize/Define/Ideate/Prototype/Test. As Jeff Immelt, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, urged the crowd of engineers and designers at last week’s Front End of Innovation Conference (FEI), it’s critical to “accelerate customers through the business model”.
As CMB’s VP of Strategy + Innovation, it was gratifying to hear that at FEI, “customer” wasn’t just a buzzword. In fact, there was an entire track devoted to “Customer Driven Innovation.” In another keynote address, Dr. Peter Koen of the Stevens Institute of Technology, lectured on the incremental innovation that often comes from internal-only ideation—“disruptive innovation comes from users, not corporations.” Consistent with that, manufacturing giant 3M has found its user-generated products are eight times more profitable than products generated internally.
Here’s how we incorporate Agile and Design Thinking to include customers at every phase:
- Empathize: As you obsess your target, research and share all you know about them.
- Define: A clear understanding of your target and their needs will help to inform a clear definition of the problem that needs solving. It answers, “What are the ‘jobs to be done’?” At least three presentations at FEI quoted Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
- Ideate: You might not find inspiration inside the halls of your office. Instead, we take you and your customers into a creative space for an engaging and collaborative workshop that utilizes System I and System II thinking. We diverge and converge to elicit dozens of new ideas, then narrow the list and envision the path forward.
- Prototype: This begins during the ideation workshops. We use an illustrator at your workshop who can visually record the day’s conversation and progress—sketching the ideas that teams have brainstormed.
- Test: Test qualitatively as you build out ideas with customers. Then, test quantitatively as you move towards commercialization.
Some organizations are more open to the principles of Design Thinking than others. So how can you prepare your organization for this? Encourage an environment grounded in collaboration, where failure is expected (not just accepted) and humility is rewarded. Design Thinking is more than a process—it’s a mindset.
Kathy Ofsthun is the VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation for CMB. Her favorite vacation destination is Cambodia and her favorite class is Philosophy.