Meet the new black

Jared Spool’s recent article, “Innovation is the New Black,” caught the eye of several colleagues.

“You don’t have to sell CEOs on innovation anymore,” Bruce [Nussbaum, Business Week’s Assistant Managing Editor] told the audience of 200 designers and executives. “They get it.”

Having ridden the dot-com wave and now standing on the shore as Web 2.0 rolls in, as soon as I hear someone declare someone else gets it or doesn’t get it, the BS meter is pegged.

Saying that CEOs, or anyone for that matter, support innovation is akin to saying people like food that tastes good. “You don’t have to sell people on food that tastes good anymore. They get it.” Thanks, Bruce.

The thing about innovation is everyone thinks they get it. As Spool noted:

That was evident at last month’s CHI Conference in Montreal, where Intuit’s CEO, Scott Cook, said “innovation” approximately 2 dozen times in his keynote presentation. He told the audience of 2,600 usability practitioners, interface designers, and researchers how innovation is core to Intuit’s success, citing example after example of how Intuit’s innovative solutions increased customer satisfaction and market share.

Interestingly, Scott never defined innovation. However, if one was to try to derive meaning from what he said, one might deduce that innovation is something that neither you nor your competitors have. But if you had it, it would give you a real competitive advantage.

People hesitate to define innovation. It’s like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous opinion on obscenity from Jacobellis v. Ohio. Stewart wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…” Same goes for innovation.

So a tip of the hat to Spool is in order for his attempt at defining innovation through two examples – Netflix and Apple. He argues that Netflix and Apple succeeded because they looked at the complete user experience where competitors failed to. Agreed.

As innovation is now the new black, experience design is the fabric of new insight. The work designers do is now the hot spot to be.

That’s great for rallying the troops, but it doesn’t really help someone figure out how to be more innovative for his or her company.

A straightforward approach to innovation

Innovation is the process of finding an unmet need and meeting it. It’s not very sexy, but it’s a good starting point. Most everyone given an afternoon can fill a room full of whiteboards with potential innovations. Cycling back to Spool’s examples, the opportunities with the most potential are those that cover more areas of the total user experience.

Netflix not only rents movies, it helps you select them, and delivers them right to your mailbox. The iPod not only plays music, it manages it, and simplifies the buying process.

The more parts of the user experience your product or service spans, the tougher it is for a competitor to pry its way into your customer’s psyche.

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