BUilding your idea is the only way to truly innovate

Less talking, more making

Everyone is innovating. Or are they?

In his recent article on innovation theatre Tim Kastelle described what innovation theatre looks like in business and a range of symptoms of innovation theatre. His description is eye-opening – you may recognise some of the indicators and symptoms in your own organisation. He identifies talk about innovation, training programs, meetings, sessions and tools. All of these are useful but they neglect one key aspect. I couldn’t agree more with Kastelle that “…talking about your idea all the time, but not building it” is not innovation; it’s theatre.

Quiet disruption

At Design Anthology we design products. In one way or another, everything we design is innovative; a surf ski that is producible in 4 days rather than 6 weeks; a transportable trade show exhibit that saves $10,000 in installation costs per trade show; optimising the form and function of a plastic part for manufacturing to reduce production costs by 1000% (yes, a $15 part now costs $1.50 to produce). This is what innovation looks like on a daily basis. While it doesn’t attract the kind of media attention that Uber style market disruption does, the benefits for the respective businesses are significant. This is not theatre. These things exist in real life and they disrupt.

Process reveals opportunities

When we design products we run (quickly) through a process; ideate, build, learn, refine, go to market and learn from market. While every step of this process reveals opportunities to do things better, cheaper, quicker, simpler, more elegantly, there are two key moments where we can best intervene:

  1. While we build a thing – by manipulating materials and machines to achieve what we want, we learn so much about how we can do it better. At this phase, we find efficiencies, alternative applications, new markets, reliability improvements, user experience enhancements, ideas for add-ons and product extensions and even new product ideas.
  2. Once it’s in the market – where we learn first-hand how real humans respond to the thing that we built. The feedback that they provide informs further design iterations and helps us deepen the bond between customers and the organisations that produce the objects and services that they love.

Successful innovation doesn’t need to disrupt an entire market; it can be smaller-scale but significant. It does, however, need to be based around building and executing your ideas. I encourage you to stop talking about your ideas and find and allocate resources (time and money) to make them real so that you can test them with real people in a real market. And iterate. That is real life innovation.