How to become an industry leader and innovator. | Entrepreneur

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We often elevate inventors like Edison, Ford, and Musk to an almost mythical status, attributing them to seemingly impossible mental powers. We imagine some lonely genius rummaging through a cluttered garage, dreaming up the next big thing.

In reality, most breakthroughs don’t come from inventing something out of thin air. They come from optimizing, extending, and rethinking what already exists. Case in point: Steve Jobs didn’t invent cell phones or computers, but he did innovate and revolutionize the way we interact with these devices.

When asked about his approach to innovation, Jobs simply replied, “Start with the customer experience and work backwards from there.” He wasn’t trying to push some flashy new technology onto the market. He focused on what the user was missing in his experience and worked backwards from there.

Related: 11 Innovation Strategies to Effectively Boost Business Growth

Mimic nature’s adaptability in business

Essentially, adaptation is the name of the game. Look at the finches of the Galapagos Islands. Over time, they adapted their beaks to be suitable for food. The beak did not change overnight. They evolved in stages to better meet the needs of finches. Similarly, in the business world, the best innovations often come from small, targeted adjustments rather than major overhauls.

Southwest Airlines didn’t invent the airplane or the low-cost airline model. They revolutionized the aviation industry by focusing on simplicity and efficiency, making air travel accessible to the masses. They disrupted industries not by creating something new, but by doing something that already existed in a much better way.

The concept of lodging is not new, but Airbnb has revolutionized it by allowing everyday homeowners to convert their residences into short-term rentals. They filled the gap by offering more lodging options in places traditional hotels couldn’t serve.

Related: Are you a disruptor or a disruptor? The complete guide to innovation for today’s leaders

So how do we innovate? what is your formula?Look to your north star: your customers

If you make your customers the north star of your business strategy, you are far more likely to succeed in today’s competitive marketplace. Innovation is not a one-time moment. It is an ongoing process of continually adjusting your business to meet the evolving needs and desires of your customers.

Steve Jobs’ quote, “Start with the customer experience and work backwards from there,” is spot on. why? Because if you’re not focused on what your customers really need, you’re not only missing out on opportunities, you’re putting your business at risk.

But now is not the time to press the panic button. It’s a wake up call. This is your chance to pivot your business and go from overlooked to overbooked. The name of the game is customer-centric innovation. Let’s dive into the core strategies that can take your customer experience from “so-so” to “great.”

Related: How to leverage innovation, the most important part of your entrepreneurial journey

Unusual tactics for true innovation

Leverage unconventional feedback channels

  1. Ethnographic research: Send your team out to observe how your product or service is used in real-world situations. Please note any issues that may not have been clearly stated in other customer reviews.
  2. Customer diary: Ask a sample of your customers to keep a diary focused on your product or service, detailing their daily experiences and frustrations.
  3. NPS+: In addition to the regular Net Promoter Score survey, we also ask those who scored low to participate in a quick chat to explain their issues in more detail.

Dig deeper into your analysis

  1. Sentiment analysis of user reviews: Use AI tools to scan reviews for emotional tone. It gives you more context than just “positive” or “negative.”
  2. Predictive analytics: Use machine learning to predict customer behavior based on their interactions with your products. This helps you innovate proactively rather than reactively.
  3. Eye tracking research: If you’re in the digital space, eye tracking can help you understand what’s attracting attention on your website or app and why.

practical innovation

  1. Customer co-creation: Invite customers to ideation and co-design sessions. Offer generous incentives for their participation. Their insights can lead to innovation in ways you never thought possible, as they look at your business from the customer’s perspective.
  2. Hackathon: This requires some explanation. Hackathons are essentially focused events where developers, designers, and other stakeholders come together to solve a specific problem or build something new quickly (often within 24 to 48 hours). This is a brainstorming event. “Hacking” here refers to exploratory programming, not illegal activity. It’s a great environment for creativity and innovation because people often step out of their regular roles and collaborate in ways they wouldn’t do during regular work hours.
  3. Shadow board: Create a committee of younger employees, or those lower in the hierarchy but closer to day-to-day issues. Seek insight into gaps, problems, and overlooked opportunities. They may notice things that executives might overlook.

Agile and beyond

  1. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs): If you want to spark the potential for innovation, OKRs serve as a roadmap and yardstick. By allowing everyone to be purposeful and aligned, yet free to approach, you create a sweet spot for groundbreaking thinking. This approach ensures everyone is working toward the same goals and fosters a culture of responsibility and collaboration. Use this framework to keep your team aligned and focused on innovation-driven goals.
  2. Skunk Works Team: When it comes to fostering innovation, you need to think about building a Skunk Works team. This is no ordinary project group. It’s a hand-picked cross-functional dream team focused on changing things. To foster creativity, build a dedicated cross-functional team that operates by different rules than the rest of the organization and is completely focused on innovation.

By implementing these unconventional strategies, you can go beyond the obvious and make your business a powerhouse of innovation. Of course, we need to listen, identify gaps, and act. However, these advanced tactics howthe whole process becomes much more robust and effective.

Innovation is not just about creating something new. It’s about improving something. Whether you’re fine-tuning your service offering, creating a more user-friendly product, or simply finding new ways to meet your customers’ needs, the key is to bridge these gaps. You don’t have to be Edison or Ford to be an innovator. All you need is a keen eye, a wide ear, and the courage to take risks. Innovation is not about inventing the wheel. It’s about rethinking how you can spin more efficiently and improve your life.

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