First, pick a general area of strategic importance to the company or target market. This could be a key market for your company, such as baby boomer males who run aggressively. This general area narrows down the scope of research and development, making it feasible rather than impossible. Of course, it also helps ensure that the work being performed is consistent with the company’s goals.
Research the people and the social, economic, and technological factors (also called the SET factors) related to that area. We discuss SET trends in Chapter 4, “Identifying Today’s Trends for Tomorrow’s Innovations.” As for the people, innovators need to research real people, to get to know actual individuals of importance to their strategic domain. We emphasize “real” people in order to steer research away from aggregate statistics that describe groups of people. We hold no ill will toward statistics, but statistics generally provide answers to questions that have been important year after year. To a great extent, then, statistics answer old questions, and innovation is all about the present and the future. Another problem with statistics is that they provide simplified, summarized, arms-length knowledge of people. Without direct interaction with real people, innovators do not truly know these key individuals; they just know a limited set of facts about “typical” people in a target set.
Coincidentally, Simon was also a psychologist. He spoke of protocol analysis where, rather than studying the masses, one studies only a few people in depth to understand their process and approach to solving a problem. Extensive surveys provide a rich quantity of information, but the survey is only as good as the questions asked and the validity of the people as a cohort of the market who answer them. At the fuzzy front end, the innovator doesn’t yet know what to ask and therefore cannot refine a questionnaire to identify who the masses are.
Innovation is all about people, not products. It is about the team inside the company that has the role of innovating as well as the people outside the company who interact with or are impacted by the innovation. Because people are central to innovation, we have filled our book with people. We began in Chapter 1, “The New Breed of Innovator,” with biographical sketches of a handful of innovators. Chapter 6, “The Powers of Stakeholders—People Fueling Innovation,” discusses analysis of product “stakeholders.” Also every chapter begins with a scenario of a prototypical individual using a product.
The rest of the activities in innovation are best learned by doing them. As such, in Chapter 9 we illustrate the steps described next in the context of an actual project. If you want to read more, we also have described these steps in detail in Creating Breakthrough Products: Innovation from Product Planning to Program Approval.