Would you like to innovate successfully? Solve real problems with people.

Petr Šídlo, Direct People

Many firms think that their new product is a great innovation that people will fight over. However, the reality is usually quite different. Nobody is fighting over the product, and in the best case, only a few individuals (tens or hundreds) will buy it. The result is a waste of time, a waste of employee time and a loss of considerable development resources. Not to mention, the loss of motivation. How to avoid this scenario? How to make sure that the firm does not develop something of great expense that has no chance of being a business success?

It is surprisingly easy to invest time and money into something that few people think will be successful. Moreover, it can have a devastating effect. I myself have some experience with such a project: some academician developed a software to identify whether or not a photo was in its original state or had been edited, and if so when and where. When I got acquainted with his software, it looked great. He showed me a photo with some Iranians launching a rocket. From this photo, they edited to show them launching four rockets. Media outlets published this photo worldwide.

However, the development of the identification technology ran on the basis of belief that the technology would be useful to someone. When I started to reach out to potential customers, the original enthusiasm from the product had waned. It proved that it would be much more complicated to find some use for this technology than it had originally looked like.

Insurance companies have a functional system on how to check the veracity of insured accidents and a photo delivered by a policyholder has no decisive importance to them. Therefore, there is no motivation to purchase the software for the identification of an edited photo. The next disappointment came from the media sphere. The assumption that the editor’s need to verify the veracity of a photo was erroneous. One editorial staff member told us straight away that a falsified photo does not bother them. In the case when the photo was falsified, they would just write a new article about it.

The basic principle that we explain to our clients can be summarised as follows: (1) the idea, (2) then a detailed verification of the interest in the idea, (3) then the development. Does this sound natural to you?


For the eyes do not see

Especially in technical areas, but not only those areas, people easily become victims of their own idea. The more they are captured by the idea, the less they care about what the potential customers think.

I hear “We already have the product, only the marketing is missing” in many firms. However, that is totally wrong. That was exactly like my old experience. The creator found the identification software of edited photos really interesting and practical. In addition, almost all the people that we addressed on the matter also praised the idea, because such a possibility is just interesting. There is no argument about it. However, that is not enough.

How often would you use it? How much would you pay for it? Those were two questions with missing answers. We were brought back to earth when we started asking questions to the people who were interested in the software. All areas of use that seemed to be clear in the beginning were actually unfounded at the end.

The project is still alive, but it has to fight for its place in the sun in a more complex way than it originally seemed. If the development took 5 years, the path to a sellable product can also take a similarly long time and be financially demanding.

The problem of authors of similar innovations is that they cannot, and maybe they do not want to, recognise what is interesting just for them and what is interesting for an adequately large group of paying customers.

Technicians and technologists especially do not realise how much time, money in wages and in costs the development actually costs. What is much worse, market conditions may not guarantee enough time for the development or the company may not have enough finance for the development too.

In the computer industry, there is a household term: price to performance ratio. Everybody respects it. This ration applies to the development of innovations, but many people, especially technicians, do not take it into consideration. You have to know, not only, why you develop it, but who will pay for it also. If you are not sure who are the buyers are and you still develop it, then you face a senseless risk.


Two ways

In general, there are only two successful approaches to the development of innovations:
1) You solve your own problem – and you are fortunate enough that other people need the same solution and will purchase the solution from you later on.

2) You solve another’s problem – you have to know how to minimise your assumptions about what people need. On the other hand, you have to be able to figure out what they really need and what they are willing to pay for it. It is a trivial and banal truth. Unfortunately, many projects fail at this hurdle.

Determining real interest and the related queries can be very demanding. However, at the end you can find always find out if people would buy the product even though the product does not exist yet. Thanks to such feedback, you are able to create a clear task for the first successful version of the product.


Does it have potential?

How is it possible to find out if it has sense to transform an idea into a functional innovation?  One way is essentially a classic market survey. This research should contain the determination on how much the customers would pay for the novel idea. However, not every firm has enough capacity to do this, either human or financial.

Crowdfunding servers offer another way, such as Kickstarter. The principle of Kickstarter is crucial for the innovator, although the population sample is not representative. It is easy to find out how many people want this thing and how much would they pay for it.

It is decisive for success, not to ask people what they want – which happens too often – but to understand their problems. Kickstarter actually does this, because the people send the money direct to you. However, you will find out nothing else, which can make your work much more complicated.

To be able to solve anyone’s problem and be able to innovate successfully, as well as earn money, you have to empathise with your clients and understand how they think about it. Because that is the key to their needs and behaviour. You will not understand it, by only asking about their wishes. You have to spend time with them, understand what troubles they have, what they need help with, what keeps them from doing something. If Henry Ford asked people what they want, he would never have launched the assembly-line production of cars. He would have started to breed faster horses. Because that is what people wanted then.


We often hear about Industrie 4.0 and how important the innovation are for each company. Most of you deal with innovations in firms or think about starting with them. We have decided to organise a seminar “How to become a leader who starts up the innovations”. We will introduce practical methods and implementation of the processes. It is not about theoretical lecture. You can find the details in the section “Events Calendar”.

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