Technology innovation thrives most when human ingenuity is uninhibited to deliver intrinsic value for unmet needs.
Becoming a technology consultant more than a decade ago was a huge wake up call for me. I’d just left a position as a customer asking others to design new technology solutions or improve existing ones. Not too long after that, I found myself on the opposite side of this equation, where people relied on me for answers.
Terms like “agility” and “innovation” took on a different meaning. As Steve Jobs eloquently once said, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” I see many parallels between my experience back then and the ambitions of today’s junior technology consultants and teams. These same lessons that helped me succeed in the past still apply.
Here are five tools that can help foster innovation with technology solutions:
1. Don’t kill a mosquito with a shotgun. In design, simple is beautiful.
Remember, we’re here to solve business problems–not complicate them. Business challenges are already complex and involved enough. Attack design challenges aggressively, but tackle them with an eye on any impact to the user experience and/or overall user community. Take into account all facets of the user lifecycle to gauge risks and rewards.
Technology can be a tricky business because many layers of our product or solution may be out of our control. This is critical if we want to manage the perception, which often dictates reality. The best teams don’t lose sight of how they need to balance risks and rewards when it comes to designing a consistently superior user experience.
2. Paint the big picture for everyone. It matters when executing your strategy.
Having a clear picture is critical for everyone. All members of your extended teams–and even sometimes your customers (or end users)–should understand what the technology solution will achieve. When your teams understand the big picture, they’ll be more motivated to seize and execute the details of your strategy.
Your customers must be able to discern quickly what your end product does and what’s in it for them. They need to connect with it at some emotional level. When users have a choice, they usually adopt the solution that they like or hate for that product. It’s a basic notion, but a surprising number of teams miss this.
3. Transparency promotes collaboration and collective insight.
Create an environment where your teams (and I mean, all teams) feel safe to share openly and collaborate freely. Encourage a holistic view of the entire user experience, and look at all parts of your technology solution objectively. This is something we often promote in design thinking.
This begins with speaking openly about the challenges or problems you’re facing. The trick is to extend this collaboration beyond the core teams–from development to support through communication and operations.
And it all starts with leadership. Leading is not limited to one’s role, responsibility, and title. Shared ownership encourages every team member to contribute to–and be critical in–the collective outcome born out of collective insight.
4. Use a safety net to encourage innovation.
There’s a tremendous opportunity to innovate whenever a new solution is rapidly expanding–both in functionality and in reach. But, innovation and cultural change can be challenging within traditional business models that are now forced to support increasingly mobile workforces and not suited for fast-paced, ever-evolving requirements with digital footprints.
Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself in this situation. People tend to be creative and productive when they feel secure enough to take risks. Build safety nets that will allow them to experiment. However, do so without disruption to growth and profitability.
5. Encourage diversity of opinion to allow the best idea to always win.
Innovation is toughest when there’s a lot of ego involved. Don’t bring your ego to the design table. Seek ways to put distance between individuals and their work.
Discourage what I refer to as “single-click consulting” so that questions can ignite the critical-thinking process, which is a prerequisite to asking the right questions with data to support arguments, not arguments to support data.
When we promote passionately that the best idea always wins, we’re much more likely to solicit constructive feedback and spark ideas that would have been otherwise suppressed or never discovered.