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What is innovation? An open invitation for discussion.

Last week I was back to Nablabs from 2 weeks leaves, and it wasn't crazy busy just after the Christmas break. So I was sitting with a bunch of pretty intelligent people with some free time at hand. Although asking how was the Christmas break was a great opener I was more curious of people’s thought on what is innovation, when we are actually working in an innovation labs.

So I kicked off the conversion and just ask questions as it flows. It was great to hear what people think and say, than pure research findings (they are still valuable but it can hardly compare to the atmosphere when you are immersed in such interactive conversions).

Here are just some interesting topics we’ve covered. Because they are conversations based on personal experience and opinions, there is no right or wrong here. So enjoy your read ;)

Discussion 1: How do you know something is an innovation?

Conclusion: Facts and time will prove whether it is innovation. It seems there is a consensus that innovation should be real and brought to the market. Here we brought up a very interesting hypothesis: we all think iPhone is innovative, however if it never went to the market and if it stayed at concept stage, would you still think iPhone is an innovation?

Discussion 2: What can be classified as innovation?

Conclusion: We concluded that innovation is more than new technology. For example, a new way to do things (process) such as uber, new product/service such as spotify, and new business models such as peer 2 peer lending, should also be classified as innovation. Also there is a difference between invention and innovation. Innovation could be the 2nd wave of what has been invented. An example would be touch screen that was invented long before iPhone, yet people think iPhone was really innovative when it came out. It’s a bit sad that a lot of the inventors don’t seems to be praised, remembered or become rich, while the fast follower seems to harvest the success and outshine the inventors. If you happen to know why or wants to just offer your 2 cents, please let me know ;)

Discussion 3: Which one is more important to innovation? Vision or Execution?

Conclusion: Both, and it’s about the order of them. Innovation seems to be more and more about end to end experience, but you don’t have to foresee and plan for everything. Having a vision first definitely helps, otherwise whatever produced maybe a bit of frankenstein. However, once you have a vision and get people convinced and excited about it, don’t leave it in the shelf to collect the dust. The process of executing, overcoming all the barriers along the way, working within the constraints, and bringing it to the market is also a birth of innovation.

Discussion 4: What’s the relationship between innovation and customer insights?

Conclusion: It is true about “you don’t know what you don’t know” and “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” As a designer who conduct a lot of customer research and interviews, this question seems to be quite controversial but I also seem to find the answer. To produce something innovative, depends on the case, sometimes you rely heavily on the customer insights and sometimes you should take the lead about what it is, you listen to what customers say but you don’t have to follow. A good comparison would be testing with customers on post-it note vs testing with customers on the 1st iphone. It could be really useful for post-it to open up a lot of new ways to use the product while testing, however, we doubt whether testing 1st iPhone with customers (do stuffs in a small screen with a lot of icons) is going to work well. Talking about that, I am curious how often do Apple and Google do customer interviews, and if they do, what’s their process. Anyone happens to know?

Discussion 5: What if banking is not about banking any more?

Conclusion: We conclude a lot of companies who go through disruption and innovation seems to extend beyond its core businesses. So we asked ourselves who work in a bank now, what if in the future, banking is not just about banking, what if it is about green banking. Banking for a cause? Banking to invest and support your value. Then I asked why would this model be different to share market investment when people can already choose to support whatever they believe in a company? Well, we might just found some obvious but provoking insight: it could be that people want to participate in a good cause without making all the efforts. So the green banking concept would work perfect for this customers’ need. Or not … I guess someone should carry over this thought and test it out ;)

That’s all for today, I hope you enjoyed the read. Let me know your thoughts, I am always open and looking forward to hearing different opinions and ideas.

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