The quest for growth requires ever-more dramatic on-ramps to inspire breakthrough products. And stories of the "must-have product" and the "killer app" foster the illusion that there is a magic formula for creating ideas.
There is no such formula. Inspiration is like other important business functions, and is borne of diligent effort, effective teamwork, and creative thinking. But most organisations are not structured to harness their peoples' efforts in search of new and better ideas.
So, how do successful innovators do it? Prophet has identified six common sources of inspiration – company capabilities, brand DNA, customer insight, industry and trend analysis, experiential analogues, and company archives – that are used by such leaders as Disney, Apple, Google, and P&G to drive growth. And these companies also have the discipline to leverage and act on the six sources of inspiration to consistently create great stuff.
Every organisation can become a productive source of inspired and actionable ideas by practicing the Inspiration Discipline. It demands time and effort, but the returns can be great. Consider these examples:
Inspired to clean. P&G's first Swiffer Duster was developed in conjunction with outside engineers seeking to commercialise new cleaning technology. But this was just one input. Customer research subsequently revealed a strong dissatisfaction with the traditional mop-and-broom. P&G teams then accompanied scores of professional housekeepers to discover that they were seeking a more portable and disposable solution. P&G also examined home construction data, finding a large increase of homes with wooden floors that lend themselves to quicker and easier cleaning methods.
The intersection of these insights resulted in the idea of a lightweight mop with disposable cloths. This new Swiffer line soon joined the company's stable of billion dollar brands.
Inspired to buy. Amazon's Prime, a programme that allows customers to pay $79 per year for unlimited two-day shipping for just about every product, removed a key purchase barrier for online shoppers: high shipping costs and lag times. In developing Prime, the company combined a core capability (operations and distribution), a key customer insight (the lag between purchase and delivery as a purchase barrier), and an ecosystem trend (significant investment in logistics excellence by FedEx and UPS).
Amazon Prime has hugely increased customer satisfaction and generates 20% of the company's U.S. sales from the 3-4% of users that subscribe.
Inspired to read. The proliferation of individual media content applications for smartphones and other mobile devices has created an uninspiring cluster of virtual newspapers and magazines. Flipboard, a tablet app which aggregates all the media content a user cares about and compiles it into a personalised magazine format, changed all that. Flipboard's innovation capitalised on the intersection of four key trends: an exploding tablet market, improving personalisation algorithms on media websites; rapid growth in digital content, and increasing ubiquity of broadband.
It meets, and from the beginning was inspired by, the key unmet customer need of having all of one's favorite online content in a single place.
Innovation does not happen overnight, nor does it happen in a vacuum. As these examples demonstrate, the Inspiration Discipline requires companies to astutely observe and act on inputs that may only be partially visible at first glance. Those looking to benefit from lasting innovation will do well to set aside time and resources to study trends within and across categories, determining which questions aren't being asked today, and considering how to capitalise on their strengths, competencies, and competitive advantages to respond with products and services that matter.
Look at more stuff. Think about it harder. And be inspired.
This article was written with Fred Geyer and Jesse Purewal