Pipeline Accelerator Blog

How To Create a Better Environment for Innovation

1166012_an_idea_____recycleWant to create a better environment for new product innovation: Get out of yours and into theirs!

I had an interesting discussion with an R&D executive asking about the role of facilities design in innovation. Creating the right environment for innovation. That might be more important than ever as we think about WFO and hybrid work. So I asked him what constraint he thought was holding back his organization’s innovation throughput.

He pondered my question for a second and replied, “That’s easy. It’s finding more impactful new product ideas.”

That made my response simple. “Then if you want to create a better environment for innovation, get out of yours and into theirs.”

He stared at me with a puzzled look for a moment and then smiled. “So you’re saying that the internal stuff isn’t where I should focus.”

“That’s right,” I said. “One of the most impactful things a manager can do is to keep their organization focused on high-leverage activities.  And it doesn’t sound like facilities are really your biggest problem.”

Instead, the important thing is to get people out of the office more often to visit customers and end users in their work environments. That’s where the actual problems exist and where the real inspiration for new products will come from!

The best new products solve customers’ problems by simplifying or eliminating costly, difficult, time-consuming, or unpleasant tasks. These kinds of ideas aren’t likely to come to your people while they’re in the office. These problems live out in the market. An entire discipline of ethnographic research has grown out of watching users in action to identify these problem tasks. When researchers see these problems firsthand, they get additional insights into the problem that lead to a better solution.

3M Post-its are just one example of how getting out of the office can help create great new product ideas. 3M Scientist, Art Fry, was a singer in his church choir and was frustrated when the little bits of paper he used to mark pages kept falling out of the hymnal. Unfortunately, he couldn’t use any of 3M’s tape products because that would have torn the pages. Fry invented Post-its when he recalled the poor adhesive one of his colleagues had accidentally cooked up and began using it to make his hymnal markers easily removable. Unmet need meets available technology!

Customer-focused innovation works best when researchers can get out and see the problems firsthand. When SC Johnson researchers observed consumers’ problems with cleaning the shower, they invented the Scrubbing Bubbles automated shower cleaner as a way to simplify the job. Push the button on your way out of the shower and it keeps the shower clean for you.

Many companies will struggle with this advice because it’s easier to leave customer interaction to sales and marketing. But limiting your R&D group to work on the ideas that others bring in is like asking them to work with part of their brain tied behind their back. Often, these companies come to me saying that they have plenty of ideas, but they just aren’t seeing the results they had hoped for out of new products. Well, it’s no wonder without a firsthand view of customers’ limitations.

The work environment can play a role in innovation and creativity. However, most companies would do better to focus externally on their customers’ work environment. Where the problems and limitations are. When you connect your development with those problems, that’s when you’ll really begin to see more new product impact.

Free Resources to Help You

If you’re trying to decide where to focus your improvement efforts, consider downloading my free Pipeline Accelerator Blueprint. It’s a 12-Step Checklist that gives you a simple framework for evaluating how well you are doing and where you should focus improvements in 4 key areas:

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