My summer holidays are approaching and so yesterday I went online to look at some book titles I'd like to buy to read on my travels. I wanted something to get me going on Innovation and these are the following titles I fell across: "Design Driven Innovation" by Roberto Verganti, and Scott Berkun's "The Myths of Innovation".
So I went to visit Roberto Verganti's website (http://www.verganti.it/), and found this phrase which really struck me:
"The research demonstrates that radical innovation of product meanings... hardly starts from a close observation of user needs and requirements. “User-centered” innovation indeed does not question existing meanings but rather further reinforces them. Instead, rather than getting close to users, breakthrough firms follow a different strategy: design driven innovation. They take a broader perspective by investigating the evolution of culture, society and technologies, and make proposals, putting forward a vision about possible new product meanings that people have not solicited but that they were eventually just waiting for."
I also went to visit Berkun's website (http://www.scottberkun.com/) and then searched him on YouTube where I listened to his lecture at Carnegie Mellon. According to him innovation is the result of hard work, perseverance, and a long iterative process of trial and error - not an epiphany moment that occurs to a selected few. Berkun believes that fundamentally we are all designers (it's an innate quality, a characteristic that has allowed us to survive and evolve throughout the centuries) and if we were all to pursue a solution to a problem, we would eventually come to something that is a sort of innovation.
For something to be innovative, however, it must lead to change. For change to be percieved as something positive (Berkun's gives the example of Ned Ludd who after having been replaced by a mechanized loom during the Industrial Revolution, smashed the machine in desparation), it must allow for individuals to particpate to it. If individuals are against change, it must be negotiated with them so that they still feel involved.
Another intereseting aspect of Berkun's theory on Innovation is that there are not many existing examples of true innovation since usually they are an agglomeration of already-existing things or theories (I caught a video through his blog entitled "Everything is a Remix" which is really worth a watch).
So I then typed "Innovation" into YouTube's search engine, and clicked onto Dave Blakely's talk at Standford.
He has a similar view to Berkun:
"Innovation is creation resulting from study and experimentation".
Where does all this lead me? Here are my 2 cents worth of thoughts. Qualitative research allows you to get into what people are feeling, thinking, their aspirations and what troubles them. In order to understand the underlying aspects of culture and society, observing human behavior and asking the right questions can give you precious insight. Also, throughout a long carrier of studying humans, you can capture age, gender and cultural differences, you can also generate your own theories on elemental things such as sex, money, jobs and religion (what Rapaille calls Cultural Codes - another book worth reeading and which I found very interesting). Do these insights not give a designer or a company the tools to leverage innovation? Therefore a user-centered approach is not useless (in Italy we have a saying which sounds like this: "Don't throw out the water with the baby in it". I believe there is something similar in English, the point being that one must not reject an entire concept and not retain its values).
I feel that the way people perceive their surroundings is through meaning. An object or an experience is worth something not only because of what it cost you, but the feelings you assign to it. This is nothing new, I know (Don Norman refers to this when he talks about our visceral level), but if innovation equals change, then innovation is meaning. Qualitative research should aim to uncovering what generates meaning and what meaning is for people so that innovators can use these insights to create true innovation, something that makes a difference.
My favorite invention