The 3 Best Innovation Techniques in Business

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "101 Design Methods" by Vijay Kumar. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are innovation techniques in business that you should use? How do these techniques help you create more ideas and products?

Vijay Kumar’s methods for managing innovation projects include impressive techniques that anybody can use in their business. In his book 101 Design Methods, he covers these key techniques.

Let’s look at these innovative techniques in detail.

1. Monitor Key Media Sources

The first of three innovation techniques in business Kumar recommends is monitoring key media sources. Kumar advises you to stay informed about new developments—not only in science and technology, but also in culture, politics, and other current events—by synthesizing relevant information from media sources. As you summarize key information from the media, periodically discuss this with your team, and keep your media synopsis files in a database or shared folder where everyone can access them. 

He further explains how this technique is useful if you’re following his seven tasks of innovation:

  1. Develop a clear idea of what you intend to accomplish
  2. Define your operating environment
  3. Understand your stakeholders
  4. Develop a mental model
  5. Brainstorm solution elements
  6. Assemble and evaluate comprehensive solutions
  7. Plan to implement the solution

This is most useful during Tasks 1 and 2, where you’re identifying trends, choosing a direction for your innovation project, and researching your operating environment, but the repository of information that you create will become a valuable reference throughout the project.

Kumar notes that different media sources are good for collecting different kinds of information. Popular mass media tends to focus on current social and political events. Social media shows you what people are talking about and how they feel about issues or products. Scientific journals and other professional publications describe the latest technical developments in a field.

2. Watch Users in Action

As Kumar explains, you often gain special insights from watching someone do something. These are discoveries that you would never make by just thinking through the process or talking to users about it. So setting up real or simulated scenarios for users to interact with the product is a powerful tool for deepening your understanding of users’ experiences. This tool comes in handy during several of the tasks of innovation.

During Task 3, when you’re learning about your users, Kumar recommends watching them work with existing products—preferably in the setting where they normally use them, although staging specific scenarios for them to work through at your facility can also be useful if you need to focus on a specific issue.

In Task 5, observing how users interact with a prototype or simulation of one of your solution elements may give you ideas for additional improvements or other solutions. In Task 6, it can help you evaluate solutions, and in Task 7 it lets you validate that your solution will work the way you envisioned it working.

3. Hold Workshops

In addition to product usage simulations, Kumar discusses a number of workshop activities that can be helpful at various stages of the innovation process. 

In Task 3, where you’re working to understand how your prospective users think and feel about things, Kumar recommends compiling a folder of photographs showing a variety of people and items in different situations. Then, set up a workshop where you ask users to organize the photos thematically or arrange them into a sequence that tells a story. When they’ve finished, have them explain their choices to you. This may reveal feelings or associations they harbor that you would’ve overlooked otherwise.

For example, maybe you ask them to pick out photos they would associate with good customer service versus bad customer service. You might notice that the “good” photos they pick out are all brightly colored, while the “bad” photos tend to show drab, sterile, office settings. This reveals something about how the setting in which their service needs are addressed impacts how they feel about the service.

Similarly, in Task 3, Kumar suggests designing workshop exercises to incorporate cultural artifacts—things that have social significance in a particular culture. For example, maybe a certain card game is widely popular within a certain culture. So, at a workshop designed to engage users from that culture, you pass out decks of cards and ask them to select a card that expresses how they feel about the purchasing process, the user interface, and other aspects of the product or how they interact with it. Their responses will give you insight into their culture and how it colors the user experience.

In Task 5, Kumar says sometimes you can make your brainstorming sessions more effective by turning them into a game. For example, you might create several decks of cards: one that lists a user profile on each card, one that lists a certain aspect of the product on each card, one that specifies a certain use case for the product, and one that specifies a certain stage of the product life cycle. Players are dealt a random assortment of cards from all four decks and get points for coming up with unique solutions for the situations represented by their cards.

The 3 Best Innovation Techniques in Business

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  • Why many companies don’t understand how to manage innovation
  • A systematic approach to innovation management
  • Specific tools and techniques you can use on innovation projects

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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