Beyond the Board Room: Finding True Innovation in Consumer Behaviors

By Denny Royal

January 4, 2013

When it comes to innovation, it’s easy to talk the talk. Walking the walk is a different matter.

Innovation is the hot topic in many board rooms right now. It seems easy enough— name a Chief Innovation Officer, create a dedicated team and youʼre on your way. But in reality, talking about innovation and acknowledging the need donʼt get you very far. True innovation requires a willingness to step outside the safe zone of incremental technical improvements. Instead, you need to turn to the behaviors of the people you serve to really reach uncharted territory. Thatʼs where problems are just waiting to be solved.

Think about Facebook for a moment. Facebook made big impacts on our behavior not long ago; they entirely changed the way we think about our social circles and interact with them. But what was their big innovation for 2012? Maybe the Poke app? Poke was a mediocre facsimile of Snapchat, which Facebook quickly found didnʼt resonate with users. Instead of focusing on real user needs, Facebook has turned to a defensive posture, simply chasing after the next hot service or app. It wasnʼt always this way, but somewhere their focus has shifted from users to shareholders, and innovation stopped.

Nike, on the other hand, continues to connect with their consumers and develop new ways to solve their problems. Breaking away from its core competency in athletic gear, Nike is innovating with Fuelband by successfully tapping into its audienceʼs behaviors. The Fuelband tracks user fitness data and allows them to share it with others. There is something addictive about looking at feeds and sharing information, and Nike is taking advantage of it to change the way people behave and interact with each other in the fitness world. Nike has pushed outside its safe zone to become a tech, data and service company, now allowing others to develop on their platform. This sort of thinking and innovation has led to the 57% increase in Nike’s profits since Mark Parker took over as CEO in 2006.

Most companies are comfortably settled in a reliability-based model. They focus their teams on incremental technical improvements rather than exploring uncharted territory. This strategy effectively keeps shareholders comfortable, but it inhibits innovation. Forward progression is limited to low-risk, safe steps that donʼt create real transformation or change. But taking risks to seek out solutions that change behavior can pay off in big ways. If we look to the companies that we see as truly innovative, more often than not they are changing either the way we do things or the way we see things. So when approaching your next design project, consider stepping back and asking yourself if it’s really going to change a behavior, or if itʼs just continuing the norm. It may just change your perspective and dare you to pursue real innovation.

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