May 01, 2015
The Four Lenses of Innovation

The Heart of Innovation is happy to present the following guest post from Rowan Gibson, author of the recently published The Four Lenses of Innovation. Enjoy!

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Ever wondered where big, breakthrough ideas come from? How do innovators manage to spot the opportunities for industry revolution that everyone else seems to miss?

Contrary to popular belief, innovation is not some mystical art that's forbidden to mere mortals. It can be just as systematic and methodical as anything else we do in business. And the great news is that we can all achieve it.

In my brand new book "The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool For Creative Thinking," I debunk the pervasive myths that are holding us back in our ability to innovate. By asking how the world's top innovators -- like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk -- came up with their game-changing ideas, I have identified four key business perspectives or "lenses" that will enable you to discover groundbreaking opportunities for innovation and growth:

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Challenge Your Orthodoxies

Remember, innovators are usually contrarians by nature. They are people who tend to question common assumptions and overturn conventional wisdom inside a company, or across a whole industry. Recall how James Dyson fundamentally reinvented the vacuum cleaner by asking why it needed a bag, and why it couldn't be a sexy design statement instead of the ugliest thing in your home. Or how Tesla's Elon Musk reconceived the electric car by asking why it couldn't be a sleek, high-performance automobile, and why it couldn't be sold exclusively online.

So what if you challenged your own, deeply-held beliefs about the "right" way of doing things? What if you sat down with your team and began to seriously and systematically challenge your deep-seated assumptions about your customers, your offerings, your route to market, your current profit-engines, and your differentiation strategy? What new innovation opportunities might present themselves? How might your business model be radically restructured to bring compelling new benefits to your customers?

Harness Emerging Trends

Innovators are trend-riders. While many companies either underestimate or ignore critical trends and discontinuities until it's too late to exploit them, innovators know how to use the power of change to their own advantage. They pay close attention to nascent developments that have the potential to profoundly impact the future of an industry, or that could be harnessed to substantially alter the rules of the game.

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Consider Jeff Bezos, who saw the oncoming tsunami of e-commerce back in 1994, and rode that giant wave to great success with Amazon.com. Or John Mackey, founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, who caught the health food wave back in the 1970s and harnessed that emerging trend to build his organic retail empire.

Ask yourself: which wave is our company riding? In what fundamental ways will our industry change in the future? Will we be ready for these changes? Will we be driving them? How can we harness these trends to gain a strategic advantage over our competitors? Are we going to ride the next tsunami in this industry, or will we will be washed away by it?'

Leverage Your Resources

Innovators never mentally pigeonhole a company in a particular market sector, or lock it up in a certain product or service category. Rather, they are able to stretch the way they define their business based on its collection of core competencies and strategic assets. Innovators believe that these embedded resources can always be repurposed, redeployed, or recombined to generate new growth opportunities, either adjacent to their current business or far beyond it.

As an example, take Richard Branson, who took Virgin's unique set of skills and assets and leveraged them into a global conglomerate comprising more than 400 different companies in a multitude of diverse market sectors. Or Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who have refused to develop a narrow self-image of Google, choosing instead to expand not just the concept of search but also of Google itself, by stretching into productivity tools, operating systems, hardware, self-driving cars, robotics, and even life extension technologies.

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The lesson for us is that we need to think of a company not in terms of what it is or what it does, but in terms of what it knows -- its skills and unique capabilities -- and what it ownsm such as infrastructure, proprietary technologies, standards, patents, brands, customer data, and so on. What if you redeployed these core competencies and strategic assets in completely new ways, or in new contexts, to open up exciting new growth opportunities for your business?

Identify Unmet Needs

Innovators are empathizers. They know how to "get into the customer's skin." They are able look at things from the customer's perspective, and to intuitively sense -- to feel -- the customer's "pain points". They have a knack for identifying and understanding unmet and perhaps unarticulated needs. And they set out to address these needs by designing innovative solutions from the customer backward.

Did anyone tell Steve Jobs they needed a translucent desktop computer, a cool MP3 player, an online music store, a revolutionary smartphone, an App Store, or a tablet computer? Nope. He somehow knew what we needed before we did. Did anyone ask Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers for a smart, friendly thermostat that could learn and adapt to our behaviors? Nope. The founders of Nest Labs simply set out to identify common human frustrations and then to solve them with intelligent, cool appliances.

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How much do you really know about your customers'unsolved problems, unmet needs, and wants? How deep are you digging in your search for important customer insights? And are you using these insights as the essential basis for imagining new offerings, new marketing strategies, new customer experiences, and new business models? Or is there a disconnect somewhere between your customers' real needs and the ideas and offerings you produce?

The great news is that literally anyone can use these four proven perspectives to unlock their ability to innovate. They represent powerful innovation lenses that enable us to look at the world from completely new angles of view, revealing surprising insights and opportunities that we never saw before -- ideas that were, if you like, "hidden in plain sight." Most importantly, they offer us a "power tool for creative thinking", a way to dramatically enhance our own innate capacity for creativity and imaginative problem-solving by emulating the mind of the innovator.

My new book will help you in your hunt for the next big idea that will shape the destiny of your company. Other books promise the keys to innovation. This one delivers them. With a unique full-color design, 304 pages of thought-provoking examples, and features like my 8-Step Model for Building a Breakthrough, "The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool For Creative Thinking" will teach you how to reverse-engineer creative genius and make radical business innovation an everyday reality inside your organization.


Image Credits: All images are the copyrighted property of Rowan Gibson and used here with permission. All rights reserved.

Rowan Gibson is recognized as one of the world's foremost thought leaders on innovation. His new book, The Four lenses of Innovation (Wiley), examines the thinking patterns or perspectives that have been catalysts for breakthrough innovation throughout human history, and shows you how to use these perspectives to infuse creativity into your own organization.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 1, 2015 01:48 PM

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