Five Questions that Spur Innovation in the Workplace

A smart look at hard data can yield brilliant innovation.

Any type of innovation can be traced back to a simple question of some sort. More often than not, that question boils down to “Why?” But just like “coffee” describes a host of different flavors, colors, and styles, it’s how, precisely, you ask “why?” that matters to innovation strategy.

What Would You Change?

One of the biggest struggles of innovation strategy is getting people to put themselves out there. So before you do anything else, make it clear that coming to anyone with a question or an idea is low-risk and worth doing. Make sure that doors, and minds, are open, so anyone with an idea can take the shot.

So, what would you change with your company’s products or services? The message should be that you are willing to entertain any and all changes if they are innovative and supported by the right data.

Is There Another Way To Use Our Product?

One of the most common stories of innovation is an unexpected use for a product with an entirely different intent. Petroleum jelly was originally used as a topical ointment that rig workers put on their skin to protect burns and cuts, for example.  Now, it used to cure chest colds, diaper rash, nosebleeds, nail fungus, and is a cosmetic staple for many.

But with any product, it makes sense to sit down and review what your product does and ask yourself if there are other uses for it, outside of the ones you intended. And remember, your customers might have beaten you to it; if you see a large peripheral market, it’s worth asking “why.”

What Does Our Product Pair With?

In the culinary world, the most groundbreaking innovations come from seemingly unlikely pairings. Fusion cuisine is popular because all cuisines share the elements of sweet, acid, salt, and fat, and as long as you keep that balance, seemingly wacky ideas like combining hummus and Thai curry or turning tandoori chicken into a burger can blend to find new tastes.

So ask yourself: What factors do you have to balance for a successful product? What unlikely pairings work well together? As you get a sense of the proper balance, especially if your customers have specific needs, you’ll be able to come up with innovative ideas.

How can you innovate in the workplace?

What Can I Change?

Too often we treat the story of innovation as one person having a bold idea that changes everything. But it’s often the little accumulations of ideas that lead to enormous breakthroughs. That makes small changes and rapid iteration particularly useful for innovation, especially when it can be done at low cost and low risk.

The true master of this was NASCAR’s most beloved cheater, Smokey Yunick. Yunick, working to get an edge on other racers, also happened to invent a host of luxuries we enjoy on cars today, from variable ratio power steering to the extended tip spark plug. Yunick’s small changes made a big difference, and the same can be true of your product.

Can I Change Contexts?

One of the most important shifts any product can make is its context. What’s a failure aimed at one market can be a gigantic hit aimed at another. Virtual reality is a case in point; it’s been heavily hyped as a consumer product, but its most significant successes have been in training, military, and industrial applications. Change the context of the product, and you can find new markets and new places to innovate.

There are many more questions you can ask, of course. But start with these. Understanding your product from more than one perspective can unlock ideas and approaches you may never have considered. To learn more about innovation strategy,  request a demo of Ideascale!