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From an idea-driven innovation approach to a need-driven innovation process

What would an ideal process of the front-end of innovation look like? Well probably something like this:

As you get closer and closer to the actual launch comfort about the success of an innovation increases along the way. Ideally, before launch, there would be a lot of confidence and a shared feeling of comfort that the product or service has a good chance of being successful in the market.

However, reality often looks more like this:

This graph shows the comfort decreasing (or the insecurity increasing) the closer the product gets to being launched. Often this is exactly the case and the number of sleepless nights increases before launch. Will they buy it? Will they like it? Do we really add value or did we fall in love with our own ideas? etc.

How can you move from the second graph to the first? How can you be increase the comfort in innovation until launch?

«Idea-driven» increases insecurity

The two graphs actually show two very different approaches to innovation: The idea-driven approach and the need-driven approach.

In the idea-driven or idea first approach you start with high comfort. That process starts with a more or less worked out feature or product idea. Comfort is high because the solution idea is well known and understood. There might be brainstorming sessions or other workshops to figure out where to start and development starts. But: Thefurther you develop and build the product the more doubts are popping up. Should we add this feature or not? Should we add it now or later? And the more scary ones turn up the closer we get to launch: Will it be bought? Will customers like it? And then the day of launch comes and comfort crashes, you launch… – did we get lucky?

As Christensen lays out in his book Competing against luck, there must be another way. In that other way, comfort about the success of innovation would systematically increase the closer you get to the launch of the product. But how can you do that?

«Need-driven» increases comfort

The other way puts the customer’s needs early. Meaning that very early after the initial idea the customer and her needs have to be discovered and understood. In fact, it starts with a low level of comfort, as Socrates said it starts with «I know that I know nothing». Bringing in the customer’s needs early purposely takes the position of discomfort and admits: We don’t know the customer’s needs,… yet!

But: The better we understand the needs of our customers the more certain we will be that our innovation actually addresses them. The need-driven approach works in the opposite direction of the idea-driven approach. The idea-driven approach starts with a solution idea and gets more and more aware that the ultimate goal is not the idea but offering something customers will want to have. That’s why the insecurity kicks in and comfort decreases.

The need-driven approach turns this around and asks very early: What are the customer’s needs? The better these are known, the more confident you can be with the solutions that are developed. 100% certain? No, that’s something life has to offer. But significantly more certain than in an idea-driven approach? Yes!

Jobs-to-be-done enables the shift to a need-driven approach

The most effective way to make the switch from an idea-driven approach to a need-driven approach is the adoption of the Jobs-to-be-done stance. Jobs-to-be-done is a way of thinking that decisively takes the customer’s perspective. It asks: What is the group of people trying to achieve that could be using our product? In other words: What’s the Job potential customers are trying to get done when they use our product?

A quote by marketing-guru Levit captures the spirit of Jobs-to-be-done: «People don’t want drills, they want a hole in the wall». Of course, they also don’t want holes, but the point is this: They certainly don’t want the drill for the sake of having a drill. They want the drill as a function of the Job they want to get done: Furnish their room (by hanging a picture, a shelf, etc.).

Thinking in Jobs-to-be-done makes you turn away from your current solution ideas and opens up the perspective for what customers actually need. It is the Socratic starting point of a need-driven innovation approach: We don’t know what customers need,… yet!

A need-driven framework

Jobs-to-be-done is a starting point, a way of thinking. It is not a process to actually reduce uncertainty. Vendbridge has designed a framework we apply in many of our projects to make the Jobs-to-be-done logic actionable. This is the framework:

The process starts by framing the innovation challenge from the customer’s perspective by applying the Jobs-to-be-done logic. This put’s ideas and solutions aside for a moment and looks at them through the lens of the customer. In the discovery phase, those needs tied to the Job-to-be-done are being discovered by using available research, applying qualitative and quantitative methods – depending on what’s available and necessary for the challenge. These two phases are completely solution-agnostic: What we want to understand is the Job customers are trying to get done, where there Pain Points are and what priority their needs have. This increases comfort as we dig deeper into the customer’s needs and now feel comfortable to adjust ideas and solutions accordingly.

Only then we are ready to move back into the solution space. Armed with the knowledge of the customer’s needs and Pain Points we start spinning ideas and concepts towards the needs of the customer. We match the products and ideas with the needs of customers to again reduce insecurities about market success. Spin increases the chances of product-market fit. After these steps, we feel comfortable enough about our ideas and move into development after considerably reducing our insecurities before launch.

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