• Jeff Doolittle

How Leaders Can Win the Innovation Battle

The innovation leadership battle is to introduce products and services that customers will use. Even the world's largest organizations have had significant and costly innovation misses, such as Google+, Samsung Galaxy Fold, and the Amazon Fire Phone. The technology sector is full of examples where new emerging technologies catch established organizations off guard. Too often, companies focus on the competition leading to these misses. Leaders benefit from understanding at a basic level how marketing works. In today's turbulent and fast-paced digital world, traditional approaches frequently fall short of revealing the customer's actual desires and needs. Whether you are the CEO or a frontline leader, delivering on your customers' stated and hidden needs and desires is vital to organizational success.

Moving Beyond a Focus on Your Competition

Although competition can be helpful to invoke change within your organization, the goal is innovating on value, not on your position against competition. Still, organizations frequently focus on the competition too much, leading to misunderstanding customer needs and desires. A better focus is on creating an uncontested market based on a value derived from your customer's implicit and explicit wants and needs. Competent innovation leadership focuses on customer desirability, the feasibility of the technology, and an innovation's potential economic growth and innovation viability.

Understanding Your Customers Needs and Desires

Products need to meet customer's purposeful and empathetic needs. Using traditional focus groups is helpful but contains some inherent weaknesses. Traditional focus groups effectively uncover stated needs but not indirect or hidden requirements. Customers are not intentionally misleading researchers during focus groups but they cannot effectively communicate the subtleties of their desires in the traditional focus group meeting format. Consider the spaghetti sauce example in the Ted Talk linked below from Malcolm Gladwell. For many years, an organization applied focus groups to understand the needs and desires of customers. However, the company never uncovered that a third of the population preferred chunky spaghetti sauce even though customers were repeatedly asked what they desired.

The complexity of communication and the capability of entrepreneurial leaders to detect and understated signs from customers impacts the quality of outcomes attained from focus groups. Entrepreneurial leaders benefit from developing capabilities to identify faint signs of customer's wants and desires.