There is a lot of hype around the word ‘innovation’ and the culture a startup should develop to have an environment conducive to innovation. Actually, I feel that innovation is over-rated. Innovative things come and go; useful things, on the other hand, help keep you in the business for a long time. What I have come to realize is, innovation can only sustain interest for so long, and thus, the need to continuously innovate. A better way of driving a business is to ask yourself, ‘Is the product that I am building useful?’
Focus on things that won’t change
I am not sure whether 10 years from now we would be using Facebook wall to post things, but I’m sure that we would be using a calendar to schedule our days, weeks and months. The form of the calendar might change, but we are going to need it, now and always. For example, in Web and mobile, ‘speed’ is really important. Apps need to work fast, blazingly fast and we know, that 10 years from now, your customer is not going to wake up and say ‘I wish my apps worked slower’. They are going to say this today and 10 years from now the apps should be simple, fast, reliable and useful. Focus on things that won’t change and put your energies into that. The coolness quotient that comes with innovation wears off after some time.
Customers don’t ask for much
When we were at the drawing board for http://gridle.in, the core question we addressed was ‘how do we make a cool product?’ Our pitches talked about the new technology we had used and how the concept was innovative. Our potential customers didn’t understand that. Over a period of time, deducing from the questions they had asked, we realized that their needs were very simple. They have a really simple problem, they see a solution in us and it doesn’t matter what technology we use or how innovatively we do it. If they find it useful, they will pay for it.
This approach is slowly becoming common sense, but applying this in practice is quite a rocket science in some cases. That’s where the Design Thinking as a framework, with defined models like IDEO’s 3I (Identify, Inspire, Implement) and British Design Council’s Double Diamond model work. Moreover, tools like Photo Safari (observe and document), Persona and Empathy Map, Mindmapping (keyword tree ), Brainwriting ( silent brainstorming, replacing talk with post-its), Sketching, Storyboarding, Prototyping, Storytelling, User Testing definitely would come handy in the journey of creating “usefulness”. Useful things may not be sexy, but they will surely pay off.
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