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Innovation in Focus: Seeing Through the Haze

The road to innovation requires a specific kind of visualization. Instead of looking at a problem, or looking for a solution, innovation requires you to “see” the problem and possibilities. This means your eyes initiate mental connections between what’s in front of you, what you know, what you remember and what you imagine is possible.  And, to effectively see, you need clarity because no one can see clearly through a haze.

Seeing Clearly

innovation Epiphanies and exclamations of Eureka could be described by the sound of a tumbler falling into place after dialing the last digit to a combination lock. CLICK!  This faint sound is barely audible in terms of decibels, but to the person who mindfully concentrated on hitting each number and notch on the dial with precision, the sound echoes with the delight of accomplishment.  Interestingly, success could easily be missed if the exact mark was missed, even by a fraction.  A visual version of this “click”, this moment of Eureka, is a BOKEH Moment.  A flash of contrasting clarity comes into focus against a blurred background.

In photography, bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image. The term comes from the Japanese which means “blur quality” or “haze.”

The moment of clarity also occurs cognitively, through our mind’s eye, when a mental connection sparks a lucid understanding of what previously looked unrelated and incompatible, when out of focus.

To encounter potential BOKEH Moments,” look for trouble.” Existing problems, difficulties and concerns all represent the potential to see opportunities where others feel tension.  The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity. The good and bad news is that problems surround us, and there is an endless supply of them to choose from. However, they can easily be missed because there is a voluminous amount of stimuli competing for your attention – it’s just a matter of where we focus our attention and what we focus our attention on.  To find innovative solutions, look for trouble and get into it.

From Problem to Opportunity

To find trouble, pay attention. Consciously and deliberately work on being more sensitive and receptive to detecting the under-served, un-served, and over-served segments of your market.

Under-served – As needs change, or new needs emerge, what was once considered ideal when first introduced becomes inferior when trailing behind market expectations. For example, now that mobile phones are treated as alarm clocks, remote controls, entertainment devices, and replacements for traditional household phones, they are used more often to access the internet than a desktop.  In turn, companies without a mobile website are frustrating their customers, losing potential new business, and under-serving the market.  Google rewards companies that provide a user friendly mobile experience, and so do their customers and prospects.  

innovateUn-served – The strongest potential for innovation lies in the un-served idea. Those that are dismissed at initial submission based on pre-existing biases or a poorly led introduction are outliers with unique potential. 

By way of example, banks have never willingly loaned money to the impoverished, so this segment of the market has always been un-served, neglected, and overlooked by conventional financial institutions.  Using a new business model of crowd source funding in small dollar amounts, non-profit organizations such as Kiva are able to “connect people through lending” to alleviate poverty.

With the causal knowledge of why banks will not and have not loaned money in the past to people in poverty, Kiva was able to create a new business model that addressed each concern, and innovated a business model to serve the impoverished.  Interestingly, Kiva’s repayment rate is 98% – far higher than the repayment rate of traditional banks.  

Over-served – “It’s what we’ve always done” is a barricade phrase used to justify stagnation and maintain the status quo.  While it can be a good idea to stick with “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” over-served, bias-based ideas stand between the current approach and exploring new potentials.

Photoshop, for example, had a loyal following of graphic designers who were able to capitalize on the majority of its features.  The problem was novices or startup companies with limited capital that wanted to take advantage of basic Photoshop features saw the package as being too costly and complex, especially for the limited things they wanted to do with their photos.  Fortunately, Photoshop recognized that they could penetrate a new audience by developing a solution of their own, called Elements, which sells for less than $90 dollars.  This strategy helped them enter a new market which broadened their customer base to include users outside their core segment.  Is your company bundling services or features in your offering that are no longer valued, or are no longer needed by the market?  Could any be scaled down and spun-off to target a new segment, while reducing the cost and maintaining your margins? 

When working with a team to find innovative solutions for your company, whether you are looking to reposition your brand or find a new sales process, you need to ensure that everyone involved in the creative process is aware of the tiers of opportunities that can lead to innovative breakthroughs. Take time in the early stages of the creative process to map out the under, over and un-served sectors in your market, then look for new opportunities to enter a new market, expand a current market, or portect yourself from potential weakness within your own portfolio of products.

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