Creating products that solve customer problems is the dream and goal of all well-meaning product designers, product managers, and by extension organizations. With a mission to generate revenue or impact (in the case of non-profits & social enterprises), value creation and ultimate customer buy-in and retention are often relegated to the periphery – yet they are the backbone of the value chain.
With competition getting stiffer and bare-knuckled across industries, ‘get-it-to-market fast’ has taken the lead. Although sometimes done to save costs and gain a marketing edge, the aftershocks of it could be painful or worse catastrophic. Understandably, customers may not always know what they need. Nevertheless, cutting them off the chain or boarding them late at the party is often counter-productive.
Reversing this approach requires a paradigm shift in leadership. More importantly, it calls for leading deliberately and with impact. It is on this premise that Innovation Leadership is crafted.
By definition and for the purposes of our context, innovation leadership is a deliberate curiosity to influence the creation of products & services that are customer-centric, valuable, and geared toward organizational growth. Additionally, it is the kind of leadership technique that focuses on the integration of various leadership styles in an effort to increase creativity, competency, and collaboration within the workplace, with an intent to solve customer problems – or at least relieve them of their pains.
To successfully implement an innovation leadership approach in an organization leaders should embrace a systems thinking mindset guided by the following.
Putting customers first entails wearing their shoes to understand where it pinches them most. It involves immersing yourself in their daily goings-on while empathetically but keenly learning their pains and how they would love to have them relieved. Empathizing with customers is a journey and not a destination. Only those who are willing to listen, learn, test, and re-test really enjoy it.
A belief is only true to the extent of its being tested. Product designers, managers, and even whole organizations have what they consider customer knowledge – way before they interact with them. Customers are often expected to behave in a certain conventional way – after all, that’s how they have always behaved. It takes an innovative mind not only to consider but also to take the lead in questioning what has always been assumed or believed about certain categories of customers. Without a guarantee of a different outcome or any insights worth testing, this is not always the favoured route. However, those who take it often have the last laugh – and you know what they say about he who laughs last!
New grounds are conquered only by those who risk exploring without expecting instant gratification or fame. Exploration is about intuition, curiosity, and the willingness to adventure. Customers have many needs and wants – most of which are inferred, and only understood through a journey of learning.
Upon empathizing with customers, understanding why they behave the way they do, questioning their long-held beliefs and convictions, and exploring the different inferred needs through exploration, innovation leaders proceed to experiment. Relieving customers of their pains is a product of many experiments carried out throughout the journey taken with them. Often, the insights gathered are off the trail followed at the beginning. However, these are the insights that are genuine and that customers care most about. Remember: you are building a product that solves their problem – NOT YOURS!
Based on the above, therefore, innovation leadership is of utmost importance for every organization because that’s the surest way to understand your customers and solve their problems by offering them what they really need. To sum it up, we reference Clare Musccutt’s counsel on customer experience:
“Building a good customer experience
does not happen by accident.
It happens by design,” Clare Muscutt