The news this week that the upwards-ever-upwards iPhone sales are finally stalling was a stark reminder that even the greatest companies struggle to keep the juices of innovation flowing year-on-year. The Apple Watch couldn’t replace the iPhone and the iCar (if it ever arrives) is still a few years out.
Most companies that I study or consult to are in an innovation crisis. They know they must innovate in order to remain competitive and keep growing (or simply to stand still). Yet how often does the innovation agenda become demoted to “novel” efficiency drives and cost-cutting initiatives?
It begs the question: where is the best place to source innovation? Many of my clients in the telecoms world look to technology suppliers. They continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of products and services that were offered last year. The latest gizmo. The latest bell or whistle. Yet I already have an iPhone 6s. Why do I want a Plus? I upgraded from an iPhone 4s to wait for the 6. I think I’ll hang on until I see something really new and different from Apple.
Innovation can come from suppliers – but you can’t really differentiate your company if that is all you rely on. Such is the fate of many telecoms companies: they continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of product features that were offered last year. The latest gizmo. The latest bell or whistle. A price war starts and the cost cutting initiatives cut even deeper. No, suppliers, are not the best answer.
What about the young folk who have just joined the organisation? Straight out of University or School, they bring a fresh set of thinking. They are the next generation! Surely they hold the answer? Give them a difficult problem and let them brainstorm their ideas to create something truly whacky. Too risky, I say! They will not understand the product and how it is used, yet. They might come up with some good ideas., but Good ideas are not the same as innovation. The newbees are not the best source of innovation either!
So where should we go next? To customers, of course! Customers that use (and misuse) your existing products and services! Customers who suffer day-to-day from trying to work the processes that you have under-designed and waste your customers time and effort. They are loyal customers until they suddenly vanish. And if no one contacts them to see where they have gone, then innovation dies on the vine!
Customers are an incredibly cheap this source of innovation, too. Not just cheap, but very valuable! By asking a few simple questions of customers every time you interact with them, you can increase your profitability, customer loyalty AND innovation in one fell swoop!
And what are those questions? Well, you will have to read the next few Thursday Thoughts to find out my thoughts on this. In the meantime, try and work out what you think they might be and comment below!
Oh, and thank you so much for reading this far. I hope, at least, it has made you think a bit more about one of the most important aspects of business and human life!