How to innovate deliberately

How do you come up with ideas for new products, or even a new blog post?

Some people try a brainstorming session, but nothing comes from it. Others sit at their desk and try to force ideas to come out, but still, nothing happens.

Are they just not innovative?

That’s not the problem, says Debra Kaye, founder of Lucule and the author of Red Thread Thinking, Weaving Together Connections that Lead to Brilliant Ideas.

“What we know about the brain is that the brain does not work on forming its connections while we are focused on the idea,” says Debra. “That is why brainstorming doesn’t work.”

And that’s why the most innovative companies today don’t send their employees to lots of brainstorming meetings. Instead, they send them to recess.

“Companies like Google…give their employees the time…to play,” she says. “Playtime is critical to being able to come up with new ideas because you cannot do it when you are focused.”

In her Mixergy course, Debra shows you how you can come up with innovative ideas that customers will love, even when what they say they want isn’t what they want at all.

Here are three highlights from the course:

1. Don’t Fight Herculean Battles

If you want to change your customers’ habits, you’re in for a long, uphill battle that you’re gonna lose.

“It is probably the single most biggest place where innovators go down,” says Debra. “When you invent something new and it’s an innovator, you think, ‘Oh, this is the greatest product idea in the world. The world is going to flock to it and change their habits.’”

And that’s a big mistake. “They will never change their habits,” she says. “You do not have enough marketing dollars to change people’s habits.”

So what should you do instead?

Adapt to their habits

Fit into existing consumer behaviors.

“If you want to go out and invent new products, [then] watch behaviors, watch what people do, figure out what you can invent that can fit into those things,” says Debra. “We go out and live with [customers]….We [don’t] have them in a focus group room. We [watch] people go shop. Then we [talk] to them.”

For instance, when a washing machine manufacturer was getting tons complaints from their Chinese customers, they went into the field to find out why. “They found out that people were using the washing machines to wash their vegetables, and the vegetables were clogging the machines and the machines were breaking down,” says Debra.

Of course, misusing the machine voided the warranty. But “instead of scolding their consumers, they were very smart and they said, ‘Consumers are doing this, we need to be number one in this marketplace, let’s adapt our washing machines so they also wash vegetables.’” So they added a special basket and labeled their machines as vegetable-friendly. Now 40% of the company’s revenue comes from China.

2. Think Like a Stoner

Steve Jobs said that he learned to how to make his products so uncomplicated that even a stoned freshman could figure them out.

“People don’t want a lot of bells and whistles,” says Debra.

But the problem is that people think that they want the bells and whistles. “If you sit people in a focus group…and you give them all these features, they say, ‘I love these features. I want every single one of them,’” she says. “So [you] go out and create these features…It costs a lot of money, and it raises the price, and then people will never buy those products because they become too complicated.”

So how can you create something that people will actually buy?

Keep it stupid simple

In everything you do, simplify. “The simpler the better,” says Debra.

Simplify what your product does, like Steve Jobs did with the iPod. “Make your product represent one thing, and make it do it really, really well,” she says.

And simplify your message, too. “Particularly in the technology field, the more that you can use icons to represent what you have to say, the more international your products will be, the easier they’ll be to understand,” says Debra. “I try and convince all my clients to use as few words as possible.”

3. Jump Off the Cliff

If you’re trying to get your idea just right, give up. “Don’t even try,” says Debra.

“You waste too much time trying to get to 100%,” she says. “You lose too much time in the marketplace. Someone will get there first.”

That’s because making mistakes is part of the game. “[Your idea is] based on the ideas of others, and how you’re tying that all together, and you’re bound to get it wrong” she says. “It’s just built into the process.”

So how do you figure out when to launch?

Make some mistakes ASAP

Launch when it’s basically ready, not when it’s perfect.

“If you’ve got what you want 80% there, get it out there,” says Debra.

That’s because you want to make mistakes. “Mistakes are great because you really learn so much from them,” she says. “Innovation is based on the scientific method, basically. It’s trial and error. Get some feedback. Make some mistakes. Learn. You cannot live in a vacuum, and the more you can learn, the faster you can learn, the better.”
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Written by April Dykman.

  • Omar Elbaga

    This cheat sheet was awesome!

    Sometimes I’ll sit and spend hours trying to brainstorm around a specific issue and nothing comes out except more distraction. Then I’ll go for a jog and boom something crosses my mind that connects the dots in a flash.

    Another thing I learned over time which is Debra Kaye’s number 3 point. I won’t learn until the mistake is made.

    It’s like learning to bake. The first time you burn the cookies, the second time they’re undercooked, the third time they’re hard, the fourth time they’re too gooey. Then finally they come out just right.

    You learn so much from the rounds you go through.

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  • Kevin Cuccaro

    Wow–the cheat sheet alone was fantastic!

    I cannot wait to sit down later today and watch the rest of the course!!!

    Thanks Andrew!

  • Andrew Warner

    Thanks, Kevin.

  • Geoffrey Barrows

    This was a fantastic course- a lot of value packed into 30 minutes. I just bought the book to read too.

    I can very much relate to the notion that ideas never come sitting at the desk. They never do for me. All my best ideas come while I’m hiking, driving, walking around, or even doing something on autopilot.

    However the two insights that hit home for me are designing for the freshman stoner and (more important) never try to change people’s habits. I can see where I’ve messed up both in the past…

  • Derek Murphy

    Sweet. I just bought her book too. BTW great speech at WDS.

  • Hans Gadamer

    Andrew, where is the link you promised to post for the special white paper mentioned at the end of the interview?

  • RTThinking
  • Andrew Warner

    Thank you. I feel like that presentation opened a new part of my life.

  • CostasB

    If Steve Jobs had listened to “Don’t try to change people’s habits. You don’t have enough moolah” there would have never been an iphone or an ipad. Same with all inventions that have ever seen the light of day. #1 is too shallow.

  • RTThinking

    Actually Apple is an excellent example of playing into consumer behavior. Instead of just designing a better-looking music player with enhanced features, Apple eliminated barriers and connected consumers to buying and sharing music in a single step. Now it owns the delivery of digital music via iTunes. Apple has a relatively low ad spend (needing less moolah) because their products are so accessible.

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