This week I asked innovation strategist Harpreet Singh—a new friend and recent Austin transplant—to guest-blog. Equipped with an MBA from Northwestern University and experience working with Fortune 100 companies during his time as a Senior Consultant at Deloitte, Harpreet is a smart and creative guy who has a solid and enviable business background. He is the CEO and Found of Markpoint, a consulting business that focuses on growing businesses through strategic innovation and design. Being impressed with the thoughtful blogs he’s been publishing on LinkedIn, I asked him to share some three tools he uses to understand the needs of the current market that are relevant for both small business owners, senior executives, and anyone in-between who is interested in applicable business strategies. Enjoy! - Clarisa
The world is changing at a faster and faster rate, with new products and services emerging at a pace never seen before. How those of us who are part of this transformation, bringing about change in the world through various means, manage risk while providing compelling and sustainable solutions?
As an innovation strategist, these are the challenges I face regularly. Solving problems comes in many forms, and I’ve found that they typically are found in three different flavors:
1) The Artisan – someone who designs a solution to delight those who experience it. This lens on solution-building takes the form of beauty, design, and life in a way that brings meaning to the user. Ultimately, this lens is about desirability.
2) The Technologist - a person, team, or organization that has mastered a new way of doing things, applying deep knowledge and expertise of tools, capabilities, and technology. This lens is about feasibility.
3) The Moneymaker – an approach focused on the financial performance of a new idea; that is, will this sell, and if so, what’s the best way to go about doing so? This lens is about viability.
When reading this, one may sound better than the other, but all have innate value, to consumers and creators. And of course, this isn’t to say they are mutually exclusive, but it is certainly common to find people and organizations fixated on one approach or the other.
In considering bringing new ideas to life, long-term impact is found at the intersection of these three domains. Understanding the capabilities required (technology, in its broadest definition) + solving a problem in a delightful way + creating financial value is a formula for sustainable innovation. Not having one of these could still produce short-term success, but it would be a long-term struggle.
In each of these domains, there are some go-to tools to understand the needs of the market:
1) Building desirable and delightful products requires, more than any other trait, empathy. Without understanding not only the needs of users, but also the context, attitudes, and beliefs in which those needs exist, it’s difficult to build truly delightful products. The go-to tool in building empathy comes from anthropology: its ethnographic research. Be it deep-dive interviews for a day or embedding oneself with users for weeks, this type of research gives creators a sense of the lives of their users in the deepest way. Approaches to ethnographic research can vary but, fundamentally, they are about understanding and not about advocating—and thus come from a place of humility and listening.
2) When it comes to understanding what’s feasible, it’s helpful to de-risk solutions by prototyping along the way. Gathering feedback early and often can save creators from over-investing in costly development, as well as inform them that they are headed in the right direction. For those developing for the web or mobile, a great tool that allows ideas to be sketched in a lo-fi way is Balsalmiq. Users don’t get caught up in colors, what buttons look like, what text goes where, etc. In cases where the product is physical, consider foam prototypes, or handing users’ pictures of how the product might be used and getting reactions. Lastly, for services, try mimicking the experience out of context (i.e. how might you offer a bite-size or fast-cycle version of your services to get feedback quickly?).
3) As mentioned above, it’s important to consider how the product or service will fund itself long-term. This is applicable for all sorts of creators and organizations. There’s nothing like getting people to pay for your product or service, so that’s certainly something to test as soon as possible. In the meantime, Markpoint uses the Business Model Canvas to help organize our offering: What is the core value proposition? What are some key processes to bring it to life? And which channels will we use to market the product or service? The key to the Business Model Canvas is not just filling out the boxes, but also seeing how they connect together and affect each other.
It’s an exciting time to be a creator, with all sorts of opportunities to produce new offerings and experiences. While doing so, focusing on the intersections of desirability, feasibility, and viability can lead to some long-term impact. With empathy, prototyping, and planning, opportunities await for those who create.
Are you interested in guest blogging? Email me at clarisa(at)small-coffee.com.