Recommended Reading: The Four Lenses of Innovation

By Mike Millard, Executive Director of Innovation & Commercialization at Ascension Seton

I just finished the book by Rowan Gibson called The Four Lenses of Innovation. It is a great book full of not only inspiration but also practical advice on how to innovate whether you are a startup, small business or a corporation. I really like his approach highlighted below.

  1. Challenging Orthodoxies

This is really about asking tough questions and challenging the status quo or stated orthodoxy. The book highlights how Michael Dell asked, “Could computers be sold directly to customers via the web, bypassing the retail channel?” Or how Elon Musk asked, “Can electric cars have performance, long range capability and style?”

For many startup founders, the very nature of their business is asking “what if” and delivering on it to add value to the customers. For intrapreneurs it’s more of a delicate dance as challenging the current orthodoxy may upset the performance engine or the current way the business is run. But it is critical to continuously ask “what if” and if there is a better way to add value to your customers.

  1. Harnessing Trends

Harnessing trends is understanding what is happening in the market. Whether it is social, demographic, technical, economic or religious in nature, understanding how these trends may impact purchase behavior, preferences and aversions is critical to staying relevant in the market. What if Blockbuster had identified the internet trend for streaming services? Would we be streaming from them instead of Netflix?

  1. Leveraging Resources

This lens looks at the ability to recombine skills from one area or industry to another. This applying of “learnings” can open new opportunities for companies as well as increase efficiency and effectiveness. For example, could healthcare learn to schedule operations much like the airline industry optimizes flight reservations?

I think this lens is often overlooked but it may prove to have the most impact. What can Disney teach healthcare about customer service? What can healthcare learn from Amazon’s online experience to improve its engagement with customers?

  1. Understanding Needs

The last area is understanding customer needs. While there are many different methodologies to address customer satisfaction, segmentation and market size, the ability to capture what a customer is thinking, doing and experiencing may prove to be the most valuable. This is often referred to as design thinking or human centered design. I believe this research is an “and” and not an “or” as you need all types of research to truly understand your customer. Your customer may fill out a survey and tell you what they want but also understanding what they are experiencing with your product or service is invaluable.

I highly recommend the book. It is a fairly quick read and Rowan gives plenty more examples of the lenses in action. Can you apply these lenses to your business to help it grow and stay relevant?