(Note: I considered "Friends don't let friends ideate without insights" as a title for this post but went with "Getting insight right: 10 steps to improve your innovation process" because insights drive innovation, not culture.)
When it comes to innovation, the obsession is with "culture," not insights.
A Google search of "innovation culture" yields 345 million hits. Amazon has over 11,000 books . In varying combinations they focus on the components (teams, processes, and physical and psychological environments) and the elements (collaboration, ideation, implementation and value creation) of a culture of innovation.
[Ideas need Insights]
The language of "innovation culture" reveals what is considered important. The "worldle" above comes from an analysis of a dozen articles (46 pages, 20,688 words) on creating a culture of innovation from Harvard, Yale, Kellogg, McKinsey and various prominent business magazines (Forbes, Inc., FastCo, etc.).
Removing the words "innovate," "culture" and "company," it is abundantly clear that this school of thought is focused on managing your people/employees/team to generate more new ideas. With the right risks, rewards, ecosystems, processes, etc.
Yet with all of the available research on innovation, the culture, the consultants, books, processes, and conferences, why does innovation remain so elusive? Why is it so hard?
In my mind, getting insight right in your innovation process is what companies need to work on instead of trying to create a culture.
Even the gurus ignore it: in his TEDx talk "The Art of Innovation" Guy Kawasaki never once mentions insight.
New products/services/businesses fail when they don’t address a real customer (human) need. A "great idea" without a true insight - finding a current frustration, unarticulated need or something people are not getting enough of or not getting well - results in innovation that eventually fails.
Without good insights behind your ideas, you'll get plenty of practice at failing fast. - J. Holcombe
I recently facilitated a session where the only person in the room who had any insight was the VP of Sales; she was the only one who spent time directly with their customers. And although the team had lots of brilliant ideas, none matched what their customers were asking for or needed (they went on to develop their top three ideas anyway; let's hope they fail fast!).
Conducting research is time consuming, costly and confusing to many organizations. They collect reams and reams of quantitative data that does not yield much insight, or hope their customers will magically provide them with the insight they need.
But your customers don't spend time thinking about their decisions, or understanding their motivations or needs. That's actually our job.
It is much easier to simply assume we understand our customers and their needs.
Or, worse, assume our customers "just don't get it." They are behind. Off-base. Ignorant.
Insights are hard work. They take time; periods of intense observation and study interspersed with periods of incubation and reflection.
Not knowing how to generate insight, one might conclude that winning Lotto is easier than having an insight. To the uninitiated, insights feel individual, random, magical, or just plain lucky.
So many skip right over the discovery and insight phase and jump headlong into idea generating; after all, innovation starts with a great idea, right?
Do yourself, your team, and your facilitator a favor.
Before you jump headlong into idea generation, think about getting insights right in your innovation process. Make insight the leading component AND element of your innovation culture.
While many think a great idea is the beginning of the innovation process, great ideas need to be based upon a great insights.
Insight should also have its own culture - its own definition, practices, methodologies and processes - so it becomes intentional and not a "random act of genius."
The next time your team wants to go "ideate," suggest that you go "insighting" instead.