Creative Designers Team Working by 3D Printer.

Customers are poor predictors of their own behaviour. No matter how much research a company does, managers who are bring a new business to market will hold their breath at launch-time just as much as NASA scientists do with their own rocket launches.

Tesco, for example, spent a full year in the houses of the citizens of the West Coast of America ahead of their launch of their new store concept, Fresh & Easy, in November 2007.  Their aim was to fully understand the needs and motivations of these consumers before bringing their new concept to the market. Despite the $ millions spent on the research, Fresh & Easy was a failure that ultimately cost Tesco $1 billion.

I know from my own experience that research and even early success is a poor predictor of ultimate performance.

Back in 2003, when I was working for Boots, I led a team that researched a new-style city centre store. We piloted the new concept in London and our store immediately saw a double-digit growth in sales.

Believing we had found the answer I moved the project team on and a new team took over the work. The problem, however, was that much of our success was due to random factors rather than – as we had believed at the time – our own brilliance, and future stores failed to justify their investment. Less than a year later the programme was stopped.

My painful lesson from this experience was that creating an innovative product or business is, above all, an iterative process. It requires trial and error, constant review and refinement and a willingness to remain open-minded about the solution. Customer research can only point you in a certain direction; it cannot give you the answer.

Innovation is not the job for a strategist but for those focused on action and learning. It is a hands-on, sleeves rolled-up, dirty business and not a theoretical exercise.

As any innovator will tell you it is likely to be the hundredth trial that gives you the answer; it is almost impossible that it will be the first solution. This means that you must start small, learn quickly and go from there.

How are you driving pace into your innovation process?

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.