Customers And The Future Of Innovation

We all want our organizations and work force to be more innovative. If we want to achieve progress, develop new services and create more value for our community members – and especially with constrained resources that prevent us throwing money at possible solutions to our problems – we’ve got to get innovative. Innovation can generally be understood to mean creating something new (or new for your organization) that delivers value. It sounds easy enough but coming up with novel ideas that are within our means and resources to develop and implement, well, it’s not so easy. The organizations that demonstrate a good track record of innovation usually succeed with a structured management approach that helps to build the innovation culture. Innovation management isn’t something I’ve thought about much, so I was intrigued by a new report,from the consulting firm Arthur D. Little, titled “The Future of Innovation Management: The Next 10 Years“. So I took a look and here is what I found.

The report is based on surveys that A.D.Little conducted with approximately 100 CTOs and CIOs. There are five innovation management concepts discussed in the report, but I’m only going to mention the first of them. You can explore the others if they interest you. The first trend to watch is customer-based innovation, and it reinforces some of the important points made about the user experience here at DBL. What is customer-based innovation?

It’s all about finding new and more profound ways to engage with customers and develop deeper relationships with them.

The operative word here is “relationships”. A.D. Little advises its clients to “explore ways of designing an ownership experience”. A car manufacturer, for example, should put as much effort into designing service and support at all customer touchpoints as they do with the design of the cars themselves. That’s the path to designing what is referred to as a “total customer experience.” We need to think more like that in our libraries. A high-fidelity experience should be about totality, not just what happens at any single services point or where usability matters.

A.D. Little sees another trend they refer to as “design-in emotion”. Many products can now offer more features than most consumers will ever use, so competing on features is of diminished value. Instead they should compete on style, design and emotional connection. Apple is the leader in design-in emotion, but other industries are paying close attention. They are learning how to “make an emotional connection with the customer through the design of products, services and experiences, and how to build community, loyalty and advocacy. I recently wrote that libraries will continue to struggle if they try to connect with everyone in the community. Instead focus on the users who are most likely to respond to an emotional connection – and become passionate library users.

I was glad to see that the report reinforces how important relationship building will be for innovation management. It goes so far as to say “As the battle for relationships continues we expect to see a blurring and shifting of sector boundaries…as the basis of competition moves from price and service offering to relationship and customization.” I would suggest that although A.D. Little sees this as the future, it does sound an awful lot like “The Experience Economy“…from 1999.

Here’s another innovation-related item worth a read. The author, Jack Springman, argues that we should drop innovation from our vocabulary. Given how overused it is, maybe Springman has a point. But replace it with what? He writes that “Most innovation efforts, however, are doomed to fail; they direct focus away from what is required to succeed…Creating something new is the goal of most innovation initiatives, but new does not mean valuable. Increasing the value created for customers should be the focus of initiatives intended to generate business growth.” Springman suggests we stop looking at innovation as a cure-all for what ails our economy. Instead, we should focus on the eight ways we can create value for the customers. These include improving our productivity, convenience, speed, choice, feel-good factor, security, low price and gross profit margin (Okay, those last two don’t quite apply to libraries). I do think Springman has some good advice for us:

Thinking in terms of creating value for customers rather than innovation ensures the focus is on customers rather than the company.

So there are two things for you to keep in mind as you go about designing your better library. Manage innovation by building relationships with community members and then focus on creating value for them.

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