Many businesses understand that as their marketplaces and customers evolve, they need to innovate to remain relevant and viable. However, innovation needs to be smart and strategic and not every company approaches it as such. A recent conversation with Andrew Wallace, a product director at Symbility Intersect, helps shed some light on this issue.
Andrew, who spent many years as a consultant specializing in software delivery with an innovation firm, as well as in-house at a media company, has spent a wealth of time working with large companies and helping them create and deploy innovative projects. Andrew shared that over the years he’s spent working with these companies, he has “noticed some common themes around what is getting in the way of the ability of large companies to innovate, and what is getting in the way of them being able to even take the steps necessary to get to a place where they can be innovative companies.”
For Andrew, these themes revolve around culture and structures that have been ingrained from within. He believes that “there are a lot of people within these companies who, if it wasn’t for the structures in place around them, would innovate.” However, these organizations are driven by their executives and management who try to push for innovation for the sake of innovation, instead of thinking of innovation by first thinking about what problems they could be solving for their customers. “They think ‘we need a website’ or ‘we need an app’ and what the output of innovation is, as opposed to starting with ‘what is the problem we’re trying to solve?’”
“As I got more into the world of tech, and especially in my current role at Intersect, we always start with the user in mind,” he told us. “When we talk to our clients, we always start by telling them that we represent the user. We’re doing business with you, but ultimately, you will succeed and we will succeed if we think of the user or customer and advocate for them first.”
Andrew has first hand experience with this type of behaviour all from businesses, who don’t get the approach of focusing on the strategic goal. He gave an example of a media company he worked with that said they wanted to innovate but were very focused on themselves and what they believed they wanted as an outcome. Instead, “they should have said ‘ok, what are the demographics of our audience that are or would be consuming our media? How do they want to consume it? What do they want to consume? And why do they want to consume it?’”
There is an upside to all of this though. Most companies have the ability to innovate, even the ones who were doing it poorly in the past. Simply put, businesses need to stop thinking about innovating just because it’s something they need to check off on a list. “I think that all they need to do is think of their customers first. They should focus on what problems they are trying to solve for their customers. Take the time to really get to know their customers in a meaningful way so you can empathize with them. The ideas that you’ll come up with may not all be as sparkly and shiny and sexy as they wanted them to be, but they will genuinely help to solve a problem and make their customers’ lives better.”
To Andrew, that’s the most important piece of innovation. “It isn’t about the output. It isn’t about the technology that’s created. It’s not about having a beautiful new interface. It can be those things, but only if they help people solve a problem in new ways. Innovation doesn’t have to be about these giant projects. Focusing on the best way you can help your customers, no matter how small or incremental, is where innovation finds success.”
Director of Product Management
Andrew is a product manager with over a decade of experience delivering digital technology.
He has worked both client- and agency-side, including leading product at Toronto Life and TVO before moving to consulting and software delivery, working with both enterprise organizations (TELUS and Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada) and fledging startups (YogaGlo).