One way to build a successful startup is to come up with a truly innovative product. It's a feat far easier said than done, and seemingly reserved for today's "young bright minds."

And while perspective is certainly a factor in inventing products, there are other ways to build them. Practicing forms of brainstorming, identifying obstacles within yourself or your team, and setting forth an ideal product road map are all preferred ways of laying the groundwork for greater innovation. 

The following three pieces of advice are what I've found to be crucial for coming up with a big idea, whether your company is improving products already on the market or you're a budding entrepreneur ready to make your debut.

1. Lead with curiosity rather than doubt.

Innovative products are likely "outside of the box," which means they're subject to other people thinking they're crazy at first. The greatest products of our time--think the iPhones of the world--seemed insane before they were done. That's the art of what is truly innovative: It's never been done before.

So, you have to apply curiosity to your approach and imagine a product outside the bounds of the current marketplace. Ask questions and apply a childlike wonder to discovery.

2. Don't base your product on the competition. 

A common way many come up with ideas is by looking at a product in their lives that could be just slightly different, rather than creating a product in direct competition to it. But this isn't the way to build truly innovative products.

Jeremy Delk is the CEO of Delk Enterprises, an investment firm whose portfolio companies include 23andMe and CelebrityMD. Delk noted that when the firm is looking to invest or build, it does so "blindly," without looking at other companies in the industry.

"Looking at how it's been done or copying your competition's homework may give you some small improvements, but you won't put any real distance between yourself and the competition," Delk noted in a conversation with me. The space between your product and the competition's makes a world of difference in your ability to be profitable or disrupt the industry.

3. Engage design thinking.

Another way to build an innovative product is to apply design thinking to the creation stage. Created and defined by design consultancy firm Ideo as a "process for creative problem solving," its human-centered core allows innovators to attack problems from a different direction.

The Ideo blog goes on to explain further:

When you sit down to create a solution for a business need, the first question should always be: "What's the human need behind it?" In employing design thinking, you're pulling together what's desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.

Design thinking differs from regular thinking in the sense that humans are always at the center. In this sense, design thinking is synonymous with a human-centered approach.

To use design thinking, start by building prototypes of your product, and then seek advice from your target market. This testing part of the innovative process is the most important. Without knowing if your target customer will enjoy or use the product, you don't have a compelling one. 

Outside-the-box innovation may seem impossible to nail down at times, but applying curiosity, expanding beyond the safety zone of the competition, and engaging design thinking are the best steps for starting your discovery process. A truly innovative product idea awaits.

Published on: Feb 10, 2020
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