The Best Innovation Strategy is Searching for Needs

Best Innovation Strategy is Searching for NeedsBooz & Company’s annual global study of R&D spending reveals that successful innovators bring clarity to the early stage of innovation. It’s when companies generate ideas and decide which ones to develop.

Just 43 percent of participants said they were highly effective in generating new ideas. And only 36 percent felt the same way about converting ideas to development projects. Altogether, only a quarter of all companies indicated they were highly effective at the front end of innovation. Which is a shocking conclusion.

There are three fundamental innovation strategies. You can categorize companies as Need Seekers, Market Readers, or Technology Drivers. Booz & Company describes them as follows:

1. Need Seekers, such as Apple and Procter & Gamble, make a point of engaging customers directly to generate new ideas. They develop new products and services based on superior end-user understanding.

2. Market Readers, such as Hyundai and Caterpillar, use a variety of means to generate ideas by closely monitoring their markets, customers, and competitors, focusing largely on creating value through incremental innovations.

3. Technology Drivers, such as Google and Bosch, depend heavily on their internal technological capabilities to develop new products and services.

The Booz & Company’s study confirms that following a Need Seekers strategy offers the greatest potential for superior performance in the long term. Fifty percent of respondents who defined their companies as Need Seekers said their companies were effective at both the ideation and conversion stages of innovation compared with just 12 percent of Market Readers and 20 percent of Technology Drivers. These are the same companies, by and large, that consistently outperform financially.

So need seeking is essential, because a good innovation is a simple solution to a relevant customer need.

But what does a need look like? I like to inspire you with 10 relevant needs and innovative new products or services solving them.

Need & Problem Solution
Consultant: I need new assignments. How do I expand my business network in an efficient way? LinkedIn
Music lovers: I love to listen to music (for free) but I hate to be a pirate downloading it illegally. Spotify
Consumer cleaning: I sick and tired of a bad performing vacuum cleaner Dyson cyclone            vacuum cleaner
Consumer: Is this bed clean and free of bugs I can hardly see? The Bed Bug Detective
Snow boarder: I like to go down hill fast but I am afraid for nasty accidents. The Katal Landing Pad
Consumer painting: If there is one thing that really annoys me, it’s cleaning used brushers and rollers. Dulux PaintPod
Green consumer: I hate spilling water and money flushing a toilet. Brondell Perfect Flush
3rd world: due to flooding we lack clean drinking water. Filtrix Filterpen
Full time mother: Now the kids are getting bigger, I like to re-enter the workforce, but who is waiting for me out there? Work4Women
Green consumer: I love to celebrate Christmas with a real tree, but don’t like destroying nature. Lease a living Christmas tree

As a good customer understanding is essential, how do you discover relevant unmet needs? And how do you incorporate need seeking in your idea generation process?

A example of an innovation process incorporating the discovery of user needs is the FORTH innovation method. Step two in this structured expedition is called ‘Observe and Learn’. It focuses on finding concrete customer needs, using ‘tools’ like personal visits, focus groups, web searching social media and crowd sourcing techniques. You can download the innovation map of the FORTH method for free.

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Gijs van Wulfen

Gijs van Wulfen leads ideation processes and is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. He is the author of Creating Innovative Products & Services, published by Gower.

Gijs van Wulfen




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No Comments

  1. Johanna Raquel on November 18, 2012 at 12:25 am

    I agree needs are big motivating factor in the development of new technologies. They help people push a little harder toward ideas that may not seems feasible at their inception. The greater the need the longer and harder innovators will work toward a solution.

  2. tilahun on November 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    There are no good or bad way of inventions. Of course need-based inventions are readily accepted. As they say, need is the mother of invention.

  3. Akos Tolnai (AbilityMatrix) on November 19, 2012 at 2:39 am

    I believe there are some serious distortions in this article. Only a few of the described needs are really needs. Most of them did not exist before the solution and also a few of them represent a reincarnation of a common solution in a new ccontext. Like linkedin vs. B2B networking groups. There was no need for an iPhone or the T-Model if you asked people. IPhone brought simplicity to the smartphone marketspace like no company before or since.
    Was there a need for iPad? No. People bought the ipad initially without any idea what they will use it for. This is the problem with real innovation. You have to create a marketspace or innovate differently. Different would mean that the company is not focusing on needs but soft factors. Like Apple on simplicity, Google or Spotify on free, Mercedes on perfection and or luxury. Forget about the needs and focus on what soft factors your customers like or want from your company or product marketspace. With this you don’t have to set prices and fight competition. The customer will cooperate with you by setting acceptable prices which are obviously higher than your usual prices.

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