3 takeaways on driving successful innovation

By: Louise Bredholt

This July, we attended the annual Unbound festival in London. ‘A celebration of innovation’, Unbound brings together leading innovators from across Europe offering unparalleled, cross-industry insights. Here’s a round-up of the 3 things we learned on how to drive successful innovation to stay ahead of the curve.

TRUE INNOVATION IS MORE THAN JUST PRODUCT INNOVATION

In his opening keynote at Unbound, Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy very definitively remarked: “Innovation without behaviour change isn’t really innovation at all, its self-indulgence”. What Sutherland was trying to convey was that innovation doesn’t stop at the product. It’s the knack of optimising the way people interact with that product. Essentially, innovation is about changing human behaviour.

Sutherland has long waved the flag for behavioural economics. Particularly, its importance in helping businesses to successfully innovate in this data-driven world. And he’s not wrong to do so. When Slack first launched, it wasn’t marketed as a ‘group chat system’, but rather as “organizational transformation”. As founder Stuart Butterfield maintains, the value of adopting Slack isn’t the software. It’s the reduction in the cost of communication, reduction in information overload, relief from stress and better teams, etc.

By Sutherland’s definition, Slack is a true innovation. It’s not just a piece of new software – it has changed the way people behave and work in an organisation. It’s easy for businesses to get swept up with individual product features, but to truly innovate, they need to think beyond that. The key to successful innovation is therefore thinking more broadly and deriving the value of that new product in terms of shaping and changing behaviour.

ASKING PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT WILL ONLY GET YOU SO FAR

What people say vs. what they actually do are not one and the same. Just take this example from PhotoBox. The online photo printing company wanted to test a new functionality, which would automate users’ photo galleries. In the initial research stage when they asked for feedback, customers were very positive, in theory. However, when it came down to testing the prototype, the findings were starkly different. What PhotoBox discovered was that in practice, people hated the new functionality because it robbed them of the creative process.

So moral of the story: you can’t always rely on what people say they would do or want. Sure, in some use cases, asking consumers what they think or want is hugely valuable. But when it comes to uncovering unmet needs for innovation or testing new products, behavioural data needs to complement consumer insight.

FOCUS ON THE BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY, NOT THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY

Last but not least, harnessing the latest technology shouldn’t be the driving force for innovation. This may sound obvious, but often the first thing out the window is the actual business need in favour of the shiny, new technology. Speaking on stage with a panel of experts, Johnny Hammond, head of Unilever Foundry, stated, “it’s important we take the business opportunity and find the technology around it, rather than starting with the technology itself”. And Hammond’s co-panellists from Bupa, Channel 4 and Ogilvy seemed to share the same sentiment. Innovation needs to be aligned with either solving a business challenge, opportunity or a predefined business focus area. And always needs backing from the top. For it to stand a chance of succeeding, innovation needs to be “a part of the agenda, not siloed off as a separate part of the business” (Vinay Solanki, Channel 4’s head of commercial growth).