Tag Archives: innovation

Sometimes Simplicity Leads to Big Innovation

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This post originally appeared on Hanley Wood’s HIVE for Housing site.

Brands spend millions of dollars on innovation—establishing innovation labs, commissioning studies, and paying high-priced consultants—all to ensure they don’t become the next Kodak, Blockbuster, or Tower Records. From Tesla to Google to Amazon, tech companies are entering into new markets and disrupting brands that have controlled market share for decades. As a result, corporate R&D departments are spending millions to try to develop the next Instagram, Nest, or Echo so they aren’t the next “what not to do” casualty.

While your R&D team works on your company’s moonshots, remember that innovation isn’t always the result of millions of dollars or teams of dozens of people. There have been many innovations with much more humble beginnings. Dollar Shave Club was developed by a guy who was tired of buying razors from the drug store. Equipter was developed by a roofer who wanted a better way to remove old roofing shingles. Domino’s Pizza famously embraced the ingenuity of its employees in its “a great idea can come from anywhere” campaign, which touted the story of a new product, developed by a franchise owner in Ohio, that was then sold at locations across the country.

The most common difference between the corporately funded labs and these examples? The R&D teams focus on what will deliver the highest ROI whereas the others have a much simpler goal: to solve a problem. And the latter is something that every employee at every level at every company should be striving to do.

The home building category is ripe with opportunities for this kind of streamlined, simplified innovation. While the big brands invest millions in discovering the next billion-dollar idea, individual inventors and startups are busy identifying ways to help make the average builder’s job easier instead of worrying about what will make millions.

While the tech industry has made significant inroads into the home building industry, it has also opened up a world of opportunity for those builders. Technology, like the Amazon Echo and Nest Thermostat, have created entirely new homeowner behaviors, all with thousands of new data points.

If a builder would talk to my Echo, they’d hear an awful lot of my complaints as a homeowner and DIYer. There’s no shortage of terrible user experiences begging to be fixed:

  • In an era of apps and big data, why do HVAC inspectors still rely on stickers to track furnace maintenance?
  • Why don’t bolts have the size etched on top so you don’t have to test and try different sizes to see what fits?
  • Why do we have to play a guessing game to discover what’s behind our own walls? (I hate hearing the contractor tell me, “We won’t know for sure until we rip the walls down and see what’s inside!”)

This is the genius of Intuit’s “Follow Me Home” program. It forces the company’s engineers to understand the end user—how they’re using the software, what they like about it, what they wish it had, etc. It gives the Intuit team key insights that lead to small tweaks that have the ability to become a big success.

One way to get at the small, simple innovations is to bring in a new perspective. Remember, a great idea can come from anywhere. In an industry where customers are getting smarter and their expectations are climbing higher, home builders and housing developers should be striving for more innovation, both big and small.

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Get Your Head Out of That Gantt Chart and Do Some Thinking Once in a While


Do you make time in your day to just sit and think?

I know we’re all busy.  We have deadlines to meet, emails to write/respond to, projects to work on, management issues to take care of, errands to run, families to care for, and many many other things that we do on a daily basis.  To make sense of it all, we create daily routines and schedules – wake up, take the dogs out, go for a run, get the kids off to school, respond to urgent emails, get a first draft of that paper done, attend the status meeting, etc.  Lord knows I wouldn’t get half of my work done with my Outlook calendar to remind me when I have to go to a meeting or make a phone call.  Oftentimes, breaking our day up into more manageable tasks is the only way to maintain some level of sanity in our lives.  But what do we lose when we get into routine like this?  Can you make “innovation” part of a routine?

When was the last time you created an Outlook appointment to catch up on your RSS feeds?  When a project deadline gets moved up, what’s the first thing that gets bumped?  How many times have you said, “ya know, I really should write a blog post or comment on some other people’s material tonight, but I’m exhausted and that can wait?”  How often do get outside your individual project “bubble” and make a concerted effort to just go out and learn something new?

When was the last time you just sat down and thought about your project/organization/contract/initiative and wondered?  About the long-term strategy?  About how to improve your team’s morale? About how to become more efficient?  About how to make things better?  About external issues that could positively or negatively impact your work?  When was the last time you came up with a new idea that wasn’t in your job description or SOW?

I had a great conversation recently with one the senior leaders at my company and he told me that’s the one thing that separates the good from the great.  The good worker will meet all their deadlines, crank out high quality products, not ruffle any feathers, show up on time, and do everything that’s asked of them.  The great worker on the other hand, may miss some deadlines and may make some people mad, but they’ll also be the ones coming up with the next great idea.  What was the last actual idea you had at work that wasn’t tasked to you by someone else? Did you tell anyone about it?  Did you act on it?

So, take my advice and carve out 30 minutes of your day to do some thinking.  This could involve:

  • Catch up on your RSS feeds
  • Read the paper
  • Have a team meeting where the only agenda item is “what can we be doing better?”
  • Go out to lunch with someone from a totally different part of the business and learning about what they do
  • Be like Dr. House, find a ball to toss around and think about how to solve a problem
  • Set up Google alerts for issues related to your organization and commit to staying on top of them
  • Create an “If I were King/Queen for a day” list of ideas for your organization
  • Do a Twitter search for your organization/brand and see what others are saying

Can you find time in your schedule to be great?

*Image courtesy of Flickr user Brian Hillegas

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