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R&D on an Island

December 12, 2013

Is your innovation process on an island?

I recently ran my Innovation and Strategy workshop for executives at the Insper Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil. As I always to, I asked participants to describe or diagram their current innovation process. It’s a great starting point for any discussion on innovation. And the responses usually range from enlightening to entertaining.


One executive from an oil company told the group that his company’s R&D team was located on an island – literally. What a great metaphor! It triggered a broader discussion about the limitations of the traditional R&D organization. Too many are on an island – figuratively.

Innovation starts with an understanding the customer –what they deal with every day, what problems they need to solve and what could make their experience dramatically better. To understand any of this, product teams need to spend time out of the office observing and listening to customers. They need to develop empathy for the customer by standing in their shoes. Only then can they begin the process of designing solutions that deliver a differentiated customer experience.

Customer experience is the new IP (intellectual property). It’s a proven way to create a sustainable competitive advantage. Just ask Zappos or Virgin Airlines. I would rather deliver a distinctive customer experience than own a patent or a trade secret.

Unless your customers are shipwrecked, you’ll never design a better customer experience if your innovation team is on an island – literally or figuratively. Innovation is the job of everyone responsible for company growth—not just the R&D department. And the way to contribute is to get out of the office to understand what it’s like to be a customer—and to ask how you can solve the problems they have today, and how you can help them realize their goals in ways they never imagined.

Get your innovation process off the island and back on the mainland.

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Follow Dave on Twitter: @wdavidpower


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