While everyone recognizes that innovation is important and can create powerful results, it's fairly common that someone will ask me for a shortcut. Sometime during an innovation training workshop or innovation project, someone will inevitably ask about "low hanging fruit". What's the simplest, most powerful tool we can deploy for the biggest result?
While innovation is a process that includes a number of important activities, my answer to this question is always the same. Forget about idea generation for a moment and start working on the emerging needs and emerging customer segments that you can discover through trend spotting and scenario planning.
Low hanging fruit
Everyone is always searching for the proverbial "low hanging fruit" when it comes to innovations. That's because they are seeking as much bang for the buck as possible, and need to demonstrate results quickly. If you know what you are doing, trend spotting and scenario planning can deliver more insights more rapidly that just about any other innovation tool, method or activity. That's because trend spotting and scenario planning accelerate discovery. Done well, trend spotting and scenario planning will identify unmet needs, emerging customer segments and identify potential new competitors. This is incredible insight for an innovator.
Doubling down on trends
Beyond the fact that understanding trends will provide excellent insights, there's another reason trend spotting and scenario planning is valuable. The data, as they say, is out there. Everyone on your team is constantly bombarded with trends. Trends about new technologies, societal trends, economic trends. If anything there is too much information about trends, and we are accosted by that information so frequently that we grow immune to it, rather than selectively harvesting all of this data and using it to our advantage. The information is free and freely available, waiting for someone to synthesize it and draw the logical conclusions. So, trends are widely distributed, freely available and offer incredible insights, which leads us to the next question.
Why aren't trends used effectively?
If trend spotting and scenario planning are so valuable, why aren't they used more often? There are several reasons.
- trend spotting is a task that spans the organization. Everyone is aware of trends in their own sphere of influence, but no one owns the task of consolidating and evaluating trends to see what they mean.
- Second, no one actively collects trends over time, to understand how they are moving and changing.
- Third, since no one collects trends, no one bothers to analyze them and understand what the trends might signal.
Stove-piped functions lead to narrow interpretations, and since no one is responsible for collecting these from across the organization and assessing what they mean in the aggregate, the work doesn't get done. Which is a shame when you realize how simple the work is and how powerful the results can be.
If your teams want to engage in a simple but powerful method to understand the potential future of your product, company or industry, all the data is available. Scenario planning takes only a few hours to conduct and can lead to incredible new insights.