Where does innovation really come from?

Many big companies now have incredibly sophisticated innovation processes. Advanced research identifies consumer needs. New ideas are evaluated using complex quantitative testing. And all of this is increasingly done on a global scale in “innovation centres”. But, does this approach create breakthrough category innovation? No, according to a recent Market Leader article by John Kearnon that I posted on here. Commenting on Unilever he says, “For almost 20 years it has patently failed to help Unilever originate the sort of new category brands that deliver the majority of the company's profits."

So, where can we do to help create breakthrough innovation ideas? Here are four simple sources of new ideas which have proved to be successful.

 - Be the consumer: many inventors don't do research to understand the consumer. Rather, they are the consumer, and a frustrated one at that. They create a product or service that they want because they can’t find one in the shops. This is how Emma Bridgewater created her pottery business, which now has a turnover of £70million. She was looking for cups and saucers as a birthday present for her mum, but couldn’t find stuff she liked. So, she designed some herself, using a traditional technique of applying designs to ceramics using a sponge.

– Listen to your intuition: many new ideas come from having a feeling about people will want, even if they don't want it now. Steve Jobs has a supreme sense of intuition, and relies on this not research for creating new products like the iPad and iPhone. As John says, inventors like Jobs are "mavericks and contrarians, prepared to follow their intuition and passion about an idea in the face of opposition, against the status quo".

– Happy accidents: it’s hard to accept in a big-company world where logic dominates, but many successful innovations are the product of happy accidents. Bailey's Irish Cream didn't come out of a Diaego innovation centre. Rather, it was created as a way to use up milk from Irish dairy farmers. And apparently Walls Vienetta was the result of a faulty production line that produced the wavy sheets of chocolate.

– Borrow with pride: In his article John suggested that Unilever’s Magnum created the premium, adult, hand-held ice cream category, but this is not really true. Mars were first to market, in the US, with the Dove bar in1984. Unilever only launched Magnum in 1987, borrowing key elements from the Dove mix, including the idea of putting the bar in a box, in contrast to the wrappers used for ice creams up till then.

In conclusion, to increase changes of breakthrough innovation that creates new categories we should consider cutting back on complex systems and testing, and instead encourage people to use their intuition and personal experience. It is not time for a little less logic, and more magic?