Go Beyond Listening to Customers to Get Powerful Insights, Says Innovation Experts Panel

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There are many sources for new and powerful business ideas beyond the conventional wisdom of listening to your customer, according to an Innovation Experts Panel moderated by Chuck Frey of InnovationTools.com and Hitendra Patel of the Center for Innovation, Excellence & Leadership at the Hult International Business School.

There are many sources for new and powerful business ideas beyond the conventional wisdom of listening to your customer, according to an Innovation Experts Panel moderated by Chuck Frey of InnovationTools.com and Hitendra Patel of the Center for Innovation, Excellence & Leadership of the Hult International School of Business.

This panel of practitioners, which includes innovation experts from Fortune 500 companies, top MBA programs and top-tier management consulting and innovation consulting firms, encourages ethnography tactics, such as observing customers in their natural environment. They have found that this tends to deliver greater insights than simply asking customers about their needs. Panelists also agreed that this tactic alone is not enough; companies should also look to suppliers, partners and employees, benchmark competitor products, monitor social, technological, economical, environmental, political, customer and consumer trends, and look at adjacent industries for insights for innovation.

As some watch-outs, Rob Wolcott of the Kellogg School of Management, warns us not to get caught by the open innovation mantra, and to be selective about where to look for deep insights in order to optimize your company's time and resources. Jonathan Rowe from Gene Express, Inc., counsels that customer feedback is good for tweaking your services but not for breakthroughs. Ron Jonash of Monitor Group reminds us to not to forget to experiment with ideas and customers and to apply the learning to create new opportunities.

When it comes to evaluating ideas, panelists don't believe in selecting winning ideas in the early stages, but rather to direct them to appropriate areas of the organization that are more tolerant and willing to incubate them. They believe that new, big and bold ideas often lack definitive data about markets and feasibility to support a rigorous analysis for selection, and they require time to flesh out.

The panelists also said that no single set of selection criteria can be applied to the range and diversity of ideas critical for your company. What is most important is a process for harnessing and distributing the ideas to areas where they are relevant and likely to be funded. Feedback loops are also important, to explain decisions for concepts that are not chosen but which leave a door open for further refinement and re-submission of these ideas.

The full report is available at http://www.innovationtools.com/community/Innovator_1-29-08.pdf.

About the Innovation Experts Panel:
In December, Frey and Patel conducted a survey of innovation managers and Chief Innovation Officers to identify the top issues and questions faced by innovation practitioners. They have now started to interview their distinguished panel of innovation experts and practitioners about each of these topics.

The next issue to be addressed by this innovation roundtable will be: How do you connect innovation to business strategy and get the funding and senior management commitment to follow through on both short and long term innovation initiatives?

Chuck Frey is the President and founder of InnovationTools, the world's leading innovation portal website. Chuck has built this portal over the last six years into the gathering place on the web for entrepreneurs and innovation practitioners. Chuck is a creative thinker with 20+ years of experience in PR, marketing and business strategy.

Hitendra Patel is Director of the Center for Innovation, Excellence and Leadership and Professor of Innovation and Strategy at Hult International Business School in Cambridge, MA. Previously, he was a senior leader of Monitor Group's Innovation Practice with responsibilities for the U.S., Asia, and Latin America and also was co-founder of Innovation Management Inc., a spin-off from Arthur D. Little's Technology and Innovation Management Practice. Hitendra has worked with companies across a range of industries and geographies and helped them identify growth engines and build their innovation capacity. Hitendra is also an innovator with a history of creating and commercializing new technologies, products, services at Motorola, Arthur D. Little and Monitor and starting multiple venture-backed companies in the portable energy and test and measurement space.

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