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Six Keys to Becoming and Staying Innovative

By Paul Gustavson

Innovation – it’s more than just a buzz word – it’s a mindset. If you look up innovation in the dictionary, it simply says it’s the “action or process of innovating.” That obviously falls short of providing anything clear or actionable. The way I define innovation is that it something created or adapted that makes a difference in the lives of others. The true value of innovation (i.e., technology) is measured by whether or not it touches someone in a way that makes life better. With this definition in mind, let’s discuss the six keys to being innovative and staying innovative.

The Six Keys
Have you ever noticed that an epic movie has a common pattern? There is a hero, who when we first meet has a challenge or is in a crisis, but he or she meets a guide who gives them a plan, and calls them to action. Because of that, they avoid failure and ultimately find success. Think of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Frozen, Iron Man, Remember the Titans… You name it. They all have this pattern. It’s how great stories are told, and innovation is shaped a lot like a great story.

Key 1 – Know the Hero
So often those that want to innovate think that they are the hero; that they have something that can change the world. That might be the case, but the innovator is not the hero. The hero is the customer, the client, the user. The hero is never the solution provider; it’s who the solution provider serves, depicted by the brand marketing of successful innovators. Think of Apple, Coca‐
Cola, Disney, Amazon, Nike, Samsung, and Toyota. Innovation begins with a user-centered focus by the hero. It’s reflected not just in their messaging, but it’s part of their design thinking from the start. Ask yourself: Who are our users? Who do we serve?

Key 2 – Understand Their Problem
To provide proper focus on the hero, we need to understand their needs. They are challenged and not quite yet the hero they will become. Ask yourself: What are their pain points? What are their
needs? This is vital for innovation. Innovation that doesn’t satisfy needs, even latent needs, is not innovation. It is merely an invention with an expired date.

Key 3 – Be Their Guide
Now that you know who they are and know their needs, it’s important to understand who you are. You (and your team) are their guide; you are the Sherpas on their journey. Find a way to connect with them early on to understand their needs; to listen and empathize. A key to innovation is to be somebody the hero knows, likes, and trusts. Ask your team: What can we do to solve their needs? How do we gain their trust?

Key 4 – Provide Them a Resource
The next thing is to provide them something that will help them be the hero they were meant to be, or at least a better one. Innovation isn’t just software. It starts as a plan that becomes something more – a resource, a tool. The hero is included in the maturation of the tool, at least at different intervals. This is one of the powers of an Agile sprint. Ask: What is the minimum viable product we need to build first? What can we create that will make the most impact?

Key 5 – Let Them Take Action
Find a way to get the resource out in the wild for the heroes to use. If it truly adds value, they will come back for more. Ask your heroes: What do you like about the resource? What do you wish was different? What’s the one thing you can’t live without? These same questions are the ones that companies of innovation such as the Apple’s, Samsung’s, and Toyota’s of the world ask of their customers. It allows them to continue an evolution of innovation.

Key 6 ‐ Celebrate Their Success
The most powerful way to grow business is by word of mouth. As their guide, you want to track their success and celebrate it. Use it as means to let others know of their accomplishments. Celebrate them more than you. The story is how they had a need, you came in and listened, and then fashioned a solution specific to their challenge. Ask your heroes: What was it like before you had this resource? What is it like now? What can we do even better? Asking these questions will help them articulate the story to others, and encourage them to continue the partnership.

These six keys align with today’s Design Thinking philosophy, and it is something that also marries up with SimVentions’ philosophy of Imagine, Create, Explore, and Discover. It’s a mindset that will help you and your company make an even bigger impact in your daily lives.