How Silicon Valley Uses Insight To Innovate, And How You Can Copy It



Procter and Gamble’s recent mediocre results have been blamed on poor innovation. Microsoft’s been panned for bringing so little to market, and even Apple’s share price has been hit as the market tires of tweaks to their existing techno-slabs. Has the corporate world run out of ideas? Quite the opposite. When I walk around big corporations I’m struck by the number of brilliant new product concepts that never make it to market. And of the ones that do, about 70% fail. There has to be a better way to get new stuff on shelves that people actually want, and to ensure that big, world-changing ideas get greenlighted and launched. Fortunately, there is. And consumer insight is right at the heart of it.

Did you know that Twitter used to be a podcast subscription service called Odeo, or that Flickr was something called Game Neverending? In Silicon Valley, it’s rare to find a company that became an overnight success; most of them radically changed direction at least once. In Valleyspeak that’ known as pivoting.

At Sense Worldwide we work with some of the most innovative companies on the West Coast of the US. We also work with many big traditional corporations. We think there’s a lot that Slough can learn from Cupertino. For example:

Fewer gates, more pivots.

Most big corporations are idea machines. But they also contain an idea killing machine. It’s called the stage gate process, and as a predictor of success it’s about as useful as throwing somebody in the river to see if they’re a witch.

What if your process forced innovations to evolve rather than die? The pivot process works like this: at an agreed interval, technologists, insight specialists and marketers come together to match up technologies and needs.

If a technology matches a need that it’s not currently serving, then you have an opportunity to pivot – if the opportunity is big enough. During a recent project, we repositioned an expensive FMCG as a cheap labour saving appliance. The product relaunched and has become a runaway bestseller.

Insight feeds the beast.

The pivot process is a hungry beast. It’s hungry for insight into consumer needs. You must approach every pivot session with a big bag of needs. Quantity is more important than quality, or careful validation.

Play, don’t test.

Think of Google Glass, a perfect example of a technology in search of a killer application. Google created a competition to suggest uses for the product. The best 8000 respondents to the #ifihadglass hashtag were sent a pair to play with.

Nobody is asking these people to do satisfaction surveys.They’re asking them to go crazy with a technology and to see what happens. Some of the most profitable products in the world were consumer hacks – text messaging, for example.

Go forth and pivot

For too long, research has been the force that killed most innovation in companies. It’s time for research to help game-changing ideas to evolve, survive and flourish.

In a word, it’s time for research to pivot.

Originally featured in Impact Magazine Issue 2 2013

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