Research for Innovation

When we are presented with a business problem, we can either attack it from an already existing reality (an existing brand, technology, etc) Or, if it is ultimately a new type of problem, we will need to attack it with a fresh mind and try to solve it  from scratch.

These two distinctions will largely determine what research approach we use.

Innovation is an art (taken at the Saatchi Gallery)

If you are building or improving upon a certain existing business reality (currently established technology for instance), you need to understand how people value and perceive this technology, how they use it and what limits it currently has. This is when more traditional and analytical Research methodologies are very effective to understand the past and present and help shape future decisions.

But when it comes to questions that require projections into uncharted waters (like: We have this great technological advancement: How can we incorporate it into our business?) Then Research has to evolve to meet the predictive needs of the problem at hand.

This type of research becomes more of a hunt for patterns, and an amalgamation of different sources and inspirations from different markets, categories, countries. This is what is referred to as Design Research and in this process it becomes imperative that we balance raw analytics with informed intuition. Despite the “fluffy” connotations that the word intuition has when it comes to business solutions, it is in fact something much more sound. Intuition in this sense is not meant to be understood as unbound imagination or “gut sense”. Intuition should be informed, grounded, and the fruit of accumulated past experiences in other Research projects, other fields and other markets.

These are processes that are often iterative in nature as they start from assumptions and work their way through incremental changes and through the use of prototyping or even pretotyping (see my previous post on pretotyping).

It is no secret that differentiation is the Holy Grail in business breakthroughs (and in everything really: from securing a job versus other candidates to dating that girl in high school). But in a world where “Best practice” is yearned for, where products and communications are benchmarked against competitors and norms, it becomes quite a task to stand out. When everybody measures their success by contrasting their outputs with the market practice, Imitation is more probable than Innovation.

That is why to achieve differential innovation, the whole participatory team must strive to step out of their knowledge comfort zones, and accept a certain level of ambiguity. This is specially true as when comparing with other more traditional forms of research, the qualitative nature of the insights gathered through the Design Research projects do not offer the tranquility and safety of statistically representative numbers.

This ambiguity does not confront the validity of this type of Research. However it does mean that a special effort needs to be undertaken by the team members, to stress test all findings and be able to challenge and rethink any conclusions.

So, to attack a business problem that demands for an innovative solution that cannot rely heavily on the past or present, it is good to use informed insights, but it is great if we can complement these with some grounded intuition that will allow us to creatively iterate until we reach sustainable differentiation.

Would love to hear any personal experiences you’ve had on this.

As always, thanks for reading.

Take care amigos,

Hector

(Post finished to the tune of Space Cowboy by Steve Miller)