4 Lenses of Innovation: A Great Tool for Creativity and Innovation

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I am a big fan of Rowan Gibson and his work on the 4 lenses of innovation. Not so long ago, Rowan published a book on his work and this is something you should definitely check out.

Rowan states that if we unpack hundreds of cases of successful innovation, it turns out that there is a common signature to all of these big ideas. Time and again, visionary inventors and entrepreneurs came to their insights and discoveries not by sitting there waiting for a Eureka moment but by looking at the world from particular perspectives.

In fact, Rowan believes it’s possible to identify four specific perspectives that are common to all of these stories. They are:

Challenging Orthodoxies

Innovators look at the world from a contrarian stance. They question common assumptions and overturn conventional wisdom inside a company, or across a whole industry. James Dyson, for example, fundamentally reinvented the vacuum cleaner by asking, “Why does it need a vacuum bag?” and, “Why can’t it be a sexy design statement instead of the ugliest thing in your home?” Elon Musk completely reconceived the electric car by asking, “Why can’t it be a sleek, high-performance automobile?” and “Why do we need dealers? Why can’t we sell exclusively online?”

Ask your innovation team members to challenge their own, deeply-held beliefs about the “right” way of doing things? Get them to systematically surface some of the deep-seated assumptions or dogmas they have about your customers, your offerings, your route to market, your current profit-engines, and your core strategy itself? What new innovation opportunities might present themselves? How might your business model be radically restructured to bring compelling new benefits to your customers?

Harnessing Trends

Innovators are trend-riders. While many companies either underestimate or ignore critical trends and discontinuities until it’s too late to exploit them, innovators know how to use the power of change to their own advantage. They pay close attention to nascent developments that have the potential to profoundly impact the future of an industry, or that could be harnessed to substantially alter the rules of the game. Consider Jeff Bezos, who saw the oncoming tsunami of e-commerce back in 1994, and rode that giant wave to great success with Amazon.com. Or John Mackey, founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, who caught the health food wave back in the 1970s and harnessed that emerging trend to build his organic retail empire.

Your innovation team members should ask themselves which wave is our company riding? In what fundamental ways will our industry change in the future? Will we be ready for these changes? Will we be driving them? How can we harness these trends to gain a strategic advantage over our competitors? Are we going to ride the next tsunami in this industry, or will we will be washed away by it?

Leveraging Resources

Innovators never mentally pigeonhole a company in a particular market sector, or lock it up in a certain product or service category. Rather, they are able to stretch the way they define their business based on its collection of core competencies and strategic assets. Innovators believe that these embedded resources can always be repurposed, redeployed, or recombined to generate new growth opportunities, either adjacent to their current business or far beyond it.

As an example, take Richard Branson, who took Virgin’s unique set of skills and assets and leveraged them into a global conglomerate comprising more than 400 different companies in a multitude of diverse market sectors. Or Larry page and Sergey Brin, who have refused to develop a narrow self-image of Google, choosing instead to expand not just the concept of search but also of Google itself, by stretching into productivity tools, operating systems, hardware, self-driving cars, robotics, and even life extension technologies.

Your innovation teams should try to think of your company not in terms of what it is or what it does, but in terms of what it knows—its skills and unique capabilities—and what it owns—such as infrastructure, proprietary technologies, standards, patents, brands, customer data, and so on. What if your organization redeployed these core competencies and strategic assets in completely new ways, or in new contexts, to open up exciting new growth opportunities for your business?

Understanding Needs

Innovators are empathizers. They know how to “get into the customer’s skin.” They are able look at things from the customer’s perspective, and to intuitively sense – to feel – the customer’s “pain points”. They have a knack for identifying and understanding unmet and perhaps unarticulated needs. And they set out to address these needs by designing innovative solutions from the customer backward.

Did anyone tell Steve Jobs they needed a translucent desktop computer, a cool MP3 player, an online music store, a revolutionary smartphone, an App Store, or a tablet computer? Nope. He somehow knew what we needed before we did. Did anyone ask Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers for a smart, friendly thermostat that could learn and adapt to our behaviors? Nope. The founders of Nest Labs simply set out to identify common human frustrations and then to solve them with intelligent, cool appliances.

Your innovation team members should strive to learn about your customers’ unsolved problems, unmet needs and wants. They need to dig deep in their search for important customer insights. Then they should use these insights as the essential basis for imagining new offerings, new marketing strategies, new customer experiences, and new business models.

Great ideas, right? Check out the framework and the book for the 4 lenses of innovation here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.

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