People love to talk about innovation – the secret to staying ahead of your competitors, helping your company to be seen as cool, and giving your customers things that they never even knew they wanted. The word itself is quite superb, sporting a double ‘n’ and a ‘v’, which I think really highlights the creativity and importance expected as a result of it being brandished around. There is a problem with innovation though. The mere mention of it can can cause people such excitement and jubilation that they lose all of their senses, immediately grabbing the nearest stack of post-its and leading a group of excited individuals on a merry dance to the nearest blank wall to design The Next Big Thing.
In truth, the closest I’ve come to a world-changing innovation myself is an idea for an off-centre umbrella. Think about it – having the handle to the left or right will enable all of your body to be covered! Sadly, I recently discovered that this idea had already been patented. In 1954.
But despite this heart-breaking set-back, I still love true innovation – brilliant ideas, the ‘everything is possible’ attitude, and especially those oversized post-its that can be used for the really important points. For innovation to be truly effective and have a lasting impact however, it needs one thing – and that is to have the customer right at the heart of it. This is never truer than when technology is involved – and where so many companies go wrong.
Now I’m no technology expert. I suppose within my group of friends and maybe within my team at work, I’m one of the people who ‘knows their stuff’, badgering others to get the next iOS update so I can ‘Find My Friends’, and publicly ranting about any change to Facebook. Reality quickly strikes though, during conversations with the really impressive geeks – the people who can predict precisely when Apple will release their next product. The type of people who wouldn’t buy a ‘New iPad’ a month before a ‘New new iPad’ is announced (hmph). They talk about things I’ve not even had the chance to not hear about yet, often prompting me to shut down my Instant Messenger and claim a Laptop malfunction, rather than admit that I don’t know which Samsung model is going to have NFC. Maybe they know too much…
Despite my wet-shouldered, geek-avoiding shortcomings, what is clear to me and most people, is that technology will continue to develop at a quicker pace than ever before. We’ll all enjoy it, buy it, and come to depend on it, but can’t honestly say for sure what the future holds. However, one thing that is certain is that both designing and using this technology, at some point, will be people. And people don’t change anywhere near as quickly as technology does.
Too often, companies become obsessed with utilising the newest technology just because it’s there, or updating their software with some fancy new feature which no-one actually wants (Facebook, I’m looking at you). In reality, for all the changes we’ve seen and will see the basic psychological needs of humans will remain the same. We’ll still be looking for somewhere to live, tasty treats to eat and drink, people to socialise with, and something to do with our lives. How we do these things will vary, as they already do from person to person and culture to culture. But human connections – how we respond to people, react to people, and crucially, the need to trust people – will remain static.
Being successful in the future will rely on the ability to know, understand, and react to technological advances, but any company that only does that will fail. To sustain that success, a company will equally need to know, understand and react to their customers as people, planning how that technology can help them achieve their core ambitions and fulfil their basic needs.
Customer-centric innovation is the only way to ensure that progress is just that – progress – and not a costly backwards step as many companies have learnt in recent times. Innovation is the heartbeat of any successful business, with lop-sided-Umbrella-type-failures being a necessary part of eventually coming up with great ideas. However, understanding your customers’ needs and constantly keeping that knowledge at the centre of your creation is the only way to ensure sustainable success for your business, vocally delighted clients who want to tell others, and a deserved sense of pride for yourself.
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