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Protecting the Human Perspective in the Innovation Process

There’s a quote from Hunter S. Thompson I keep on my desk to remind me what our roles as innovators are really about: “Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors.”

In other words: Be confident. Be assertive. Be curious. Be inspired. And be human.

Yet, as innovators, we clothe our ideas about innovation in double-breasted suits and wing tips. We take an idea that is fundamentally about rebellion and renewal and dress it for the boardroom with words like “growth driver” and “value creation.” We make it sound respectable and congenial and easy to get along with and, in so doing, scrub away the human perspective that makes it all matter in the first place. Which is an obstacle to cultivating cultures of innovation that are more customer-focused than capabilities- and product-focused.

At a recent event with Innovation Leader, we explored threats and ways to protect the human perspective in the corporate innovation process.

What threatens “the human perspective” during the innovation process?

Transactional touch points – We tend to see customer touch points as transactions which need to be made more frictionless rather than seeing them as opportunities for emotional engagement (e.g., every Amazon box I receive has a symbolic smile that makes me smile).

The need for speed – We’re busy and overloaded and pressed to show results, which has us moving quickly to determine business value and feasibility as we speed things to market.

Know-it-all-ism – We’re smart and experienced and are pretty confident that we already know the answer.

The language of work – We use insider speak to signal we’re part of the tribe, which means we’re focusing on what’s right for the business rather than what’s right for the people we serve.

How can innovators protect the human perspective?

Invite people in. Make space for stakeholders to be involved in the end-to-end process, from consumer interviews and ethnographies to co-creating ideas to building and testing prototypes. When internal stakeholders get up close and personal with consumers and play a role in building ideas, they’ll better understand and appreciate the human perspective behind the final solutions and the value these solutions provide to business but also how they make people’s lives better.

Reframe the problem. Manage the gestalt shift between the business value and the human value. This could mean designing approval systems so the spec sheet for any new initiative makes the business case in terms of market opportunity and the human case in terms of jobs-to-be-done and desired progress. This could also mean using behavioral science techniques to rethink how information is presented, such as by abandoning PPT for more immersive experiences that bring the opportunity to life.

Control the compromise. Be prepared to negotiate with different stakeholders as you move initiatives forward, framing trade-offs not only terms of features and attributes but also what each trade-off means in terms of the human experience.

And never forget to walk tall and kick ass.

What threats to the human perspective do you face during the innovation process, and what do you do to safeguard it? Tell me what works for you: dfranke@cspace.com

David Franke is a VP of Innovation at C Space. David helps companies find and develop great ideas that work. With nearly 20 years of experience in strategy and innovation consulting throughout the U.S. and Asia, David has partnered with leading companies and organizations in healthcare, financial services, CPG, consumer technology, and more to develop and launch new products, services and experiences that deliver against the needs of customers and businesses alike

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