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Why The Idea Of ‘Ideas’ Is Killing Innovation

“You can have the most innovative product in existence, but if the experience surrounding that product or service is flawed, then oftentimes, the product becomes irrelevant.”

Innovation is probably the most overused buzzword in business, which is too bad, because companies really do live, breathe, and evolve by it. But, even more damaging is our fixation on the idea that ideas are the root of innovation.

The most detrimental aspects of this fixation on ideas are:


When companies fixate on ideas, they tend to think about incremental improvements to things that already exist. What they rarely think about is the system as a whole, and how every single customer touch-point builds up to an overall experience that is more important in the end than the product itself.

It’s hard to count the number of companies we work with who want to build systems to collect feedback, insights and ideas, around existing products. This is a good thing, however, when they start generating ideas about improving customer service or distribution channels, they view it as moving off point.

In reality, ideas are often a great research tool. If you start by providing guardrails around the formation of ideas and a community moves off topic to create ideas around the experience, then chances are, it is not necessarily the product you should be thinking about. You can have the most innovative product in existence, but if the experience surrounding that product or service is flawed, then oftentimes, the product becomes irrelevant.


There’s arguably tons of companies that are built on outdated customer insights, which end up building incremental improvements on top of a foundation that is fundamentally flawed in the first place.

If you look at many of the most influential innovations of late, they are not purely about a new technology but, ultimately, a product or technology or service, is built around a key insight or pain point that generates demand.

We work with a lot of companies that want to target a younger demographic and focus their innovation efforts on new products, but this is often skipping steps 1, 2 and 3.

A focus on ideas in this situation leads to new ideas executed in old ways and inevitably this leads to failure. Really, the focus should be not just on ideas, but on insights. How do these younger customers buy? How do they live? How do they research new products?

These are all essential ingredients that need to be understood before generating ideas is even relevant. It is interesting how often we see these basic steps being skipped because so many of us equate ideas to innovation.

So, let’s stop focusing on ideas and start focusing on understanding. If we became as obsessed with the idea of understanding as we do with ideas, perhaps many companies will end up being much more innovative. Because after all, how can you come up with solutions to problems you don’t understand?

Cover image and top image from Shutterstock

This is a cross-post from Napkin Labs blog.

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