7 Most Important Lessons Learned from 20 Years of Innovating

I've been doing business innovation for 20 years now.

That's a long time.

And over those 20 years, I've learned a lot of lessons.

I wish I knew about them before I started my journey because it would have saved me a lot of time, money and uncertainty.

Here are the 7 most important lessons I learned.

Lesson 1. Start innovating on something small
Here’s what I mean by that. Most people chew off something too big to begin innovating with.

The bigger the innovation, the higher the commitment and resources required. Which inevitably increases the pressure and stress.

Better to start small, where the implications are more minor, and you can master the process first.

A great place to start is to consider a bottleneck that your customer or team encounters when working with you or your business offering. For example, a clunky sign-up page or onboarding process is a great place to start.

Lesson 2. Strategy precedes tactics (solution before technology)
Most of us are lured by a sexy tactic versus a solid strategy when innovating. Don’t give in to the tactic seduction until you’ve nailed a strategy.

Being strategic means identifying what you really need to stop doing, what to keep doing and what needs to start happening in order to accelerate your results. This can relate to behaviours, processes or actions.

Tactics usually include a technology tool of some sort. They are alluring because they promise to solve a problem without effort, but if we haven’t truly identified our business problems, the tactic will cost us time, money, and action without the rewards.

Spend the time identifying where you need to innovate. Join our free live 90-min reinvention strategy masterclass to slay those tactic demons once and for all.

Lesson 3. Insights before ideas
We all have ideas—some more than others. The only issue is that most of the time, they don’t solve a problem worth solving. You might think your idea is great, your colleagues and friends might think you’ve got a great idea, but does it really solve a problem that people want to be solved?

This is one of the critical components that needs to be validated before spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars innovating.

Spend time validating that people want a specific problem solved by researching problems discussed on blogs, forums, chats, help-desks, FAQs, and SEO terms.

If there’s a real problem, people will be talking about it. And if the problem hasn’t been adequately solved or addressed, you have your insight.

Alternatively, you can create a blog post or run an inexpensive ad on social media talking about the issue to measure the traffic and interest in the topic. This gives you objective data to validate your insight.

Don’t waste your time innovating around a solution that no one wants or needs

Lesson 4. Spend a little, learn a lot
Innovation shouldn’t cost a fortune. If you’re finding yourself looking for thousands of dollars upfront to start innovation, it means you’ve raised the bar too high to start with.

The key to successful innovation is to spend as little as you can, as quick as you can in order to get as many answers to the unknowns you might have.

Focus on components versus the whole innovation. Start by asking ‘what’s the cheapest way we can discover the answer to this unknown part?’
Or ask ‘what’s the cheapest way we can test this assumption?’ 

Once you’ve got your answer, focus on the next logic unknown or assumption.

Lesson 5. Will people open their wallets for your innovation?
If people are unwilling to open their wallets to pay for your innovation, it’s most likely not worth developing the innovation. There are a couple of exceptions, say if the innovation is for an internal process or it’s an innovation that will improve the customer experience.

Testing to see if someone will buy your product before it’s built is a proven validation method. Some simple ways you can validate the buyers intent for your future innovation includes:

  • Run a paid event on problems and solutions. 
  • Create a buy now simulation.
  • Collect pre-orders. 
  • Look into crowdfunding. 

Lesson 6. Don’t do everything yourself - outsource
I get it, doing it all by yourself seems like the cheapest way to innovate. Yet, it rarely is. Like it or not, the economies of scale, countries with cheaper costs of living, and universal high-quality education mean that there are people who can do activities better, faster and cheaper than you will ever be able to do. Your job is to identify which of those tasks and activities would be best outsourced that can be done in-house.

The most critical component to successful outsourcing is having a solid brief.

A successful brief has the five following components:

  • Context - Include a bit about you and what you or your business does. Explain what the project is and what you’re trying to achieve with it. 
  • Activities - Work backward through the steps to get them to the completed project. Use bullet points. Bullet points help convert an idea into specific actions and make it easier for the contractors to understand. 
  • Technical requirements - If it’s a technical job, ensure you’ve identified the technical specifications for every stage. 
  • Extra resources - What other information or resources can you share with them? For example, a link to a similar product or type of finish can help immensely. 
  • Deliverables - Write out exactly what you want to be delivered when the project ended —what it looks like, how it works, how long it takes to perform.

Lesson 7. You can’t convince people to buy, but you can join their conversation
Promoting and marketing an innovation fail too often because they aim to convince people to buy it. People cannot be convinced, but you can join the conversation already taking place in their minds.

Take the time to put yourself in your market’s shoes and look at their life from their point of view.

  • What are they saying to themselves that they wouldn’t say aloud? 
  • What do they care about and how can you and your innovation meet them where they are? 
  • Write and create copy that uses their words versus yours. 
  • What do they need to hear and how do you need to say it in order that they’ll listen?

Remember that what a person thinks they want is not what you know they need.

For over two decades I’ve learned a lot of lessons when it comes to innovating. The seven most important ones are:

  • Lesson 1. Start innovating on something small
  • Lesson 2. Strategy precedes tactics (solution before technology)
  • Lesson 3. Insights before ideas
  • Lesson 4. Spend a little, learn a lot
  • Lesson 5. Will people open their wallets for your innovation?
  • Lesson 6. Don’t do everything yourself - outsource
  • Lesson 7. You can’t convince people to buy, but you can join their conversation

If you want remarkable business results at minimal risk, start with a reinvention strategy session. I encourage you to join our free upcoming live 90-min reinvention strategy training session here.

Thanks for reading and best of luck incorporating the lessons I’ve shared today.

Nils Vesk
Business Innovation Expert, Keynote Speaker

PS: If you want to reinvent your business in 30 days try our online reinvention program here.
PPS: If you want someone to help you innovate click here.

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About Nils Vesk

He's the founder of Ideas With Legs.

His  clients call him a Reinvention Renegade. Nils Vesk is an international authority on innovation and the inventor of the ‘Innovation Archetypes Process’.

Around the globe, leading companies such as Nestle, HP & Pfizer turn to Nils to share his unique game changing innovation techniques for formulating commercial insights, ideas, extraordinary customer experiences and irresistible products. Nils unpacks the million-dollar innovation principles used to create rapid growth for the future.

Nils is the author of a number of books including "Ideas With Legs - How to Create Brilliant Ideas and Bring Them to Life", and "Innovation Archetypes - Principles for World Class Innovation".

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