I was recently on a trip to the US. It was a transatlantic flight on a Boeing 747, my favourite airplane – apart from the Seneca II that I used to own. Anyway, the reason I love long-distance flights is because they cut us off from everyday life.

These flights provide us with a rare commodity these days; some precious thinking time. When do we ever get that otherwise? Speaking personally, my brain is constantly coping with the challenges of work, family, friends; in a word, living. So I love it when I need to get on a flight, the longer the better.

I watched Transcendence on this flight. It’s about the moment when the human brain and technology become one. I love science fiction (Sci-Fi) because it frees the mind. It enables us to be far more creative than the “normal” working environment ever allows.

After the film and lunch were over, my mind turned – of course – to business. How could I set my clients free, to enable them to be more creative as well as more customer centric? A few hours of musings far above the clouds and away from the worries of everyday business and I was inspired to write this post. Let me know what you think.

They Take The Future Into Their Own Hands

Co-creationWe are all wise after the event, but how do we become wise before it? In my opinion, by setting free both our thoughts about the future and our creativity. Many companies have an innovation group, but rarely do they set them free to think outside the box.

Often, they are literally put into a box, separated from the business for which they are innovating. While the intention may be laudable – it’s said to provide increased freedom – it generally doesn’t work. The reason for this is that their thinking is not grounded.

Despite their incredible creativity, even science fiction writers start from a place of reality. Their stories are based on facts but progressed from current actualities into future possibilities.

I am not suggesting that innovation is limited to the mere renovation of today’s products and services. No. I am proposing that it is based upon a realistic progression of today’s realities, rather than pure hypothesis. They should be developed from current societal trends, behaviors and needs. Their starting point should be people, not technology.

strategic innovationAre you following trends? Are you happy with the information you are getting from your supplier? We all love discovering new products and ideas from around the world. However, they are already in the market. What use and actionability does such information provide? Very little if you ask me, other than for help in staying current with our market! For innovation, it’s not enough.

I’m sorry, but I’ve got some more bad news for you. You are almost certainly getting exactly the same information as the tens, if not hundreds of other clients your supplier has. Their reports and presentations are usually only marginally personalized. So whatever ideas might be sparked in your mind from your trend following, the exact same thoughts are being triggered in every one of your competitor’s minds too!

So if trend following won’t help your innovation, what will?

My answer would be many things; isn’t that good to know?

They Develop Trends Into Future Scenarios

Future scenariosTrends do not provide you with the competitive advantage needed for successful, breakthrough innovation. You must first turn them into future scenarios. There are (at least) two ways to do this:

1. Push the trends into the future and then combine them to form what are often referred to as axes of uncertainty. When crossed, these form four (or more) new worlds for you to define, describe and develop.

For each new world, identify the possible actions you would take. How would you counter a risk or profit from an opportunity? By thinking well ahead of time, your business will be prepared for all major possible events.

“We must never be afraid to go too far, for truth lies beyond” Marcel Proust

2. Identify the major trends that may impact your business and then let a Sci-Fi (Science-Fiction) writer describe the world that could develop.

The Sci-Fi writers are not asked to develop a forecast, but again to be provocative, the more the better. The point of future scenarios is to prepare the business for the future, not to predict it.

The advantage of this second methodology is that it is visual and thus is both easy to share and good at motivating the organisation behind a common view.

They Visualise the Future

Whichever method you use to develop one or more scenarios, it is essential to visualise them. As already mentioned, this will increase both buy-in and sharing. Visualisation can take the form of a simple presentation, detailed descriptive profiles with images, or more exciting animations and videos.

Lowe’s was one of the first companies to integrate storytelling and visualization into their future prototyping. They used virtual reality to develop their Holoroom.

The room portrays the future of your redecorated interior using elements from Lowe’s stores such as paint, and furniture. The room puts consumers into their new world where they can actually experience their home after their planned renovation.

Other industries that are quickly developing new virtual worlds for customers to experience include transportation, healthcare, entertainment, education and tourism. For example, car purchasers can experience their new car before actually buying it. They can even help in its development so as to more perfectly meet their desires and needs. Ford, Audi and Toyota all use VR to enable their customers to help them through immersive experiences.

If you’d like to read more about such uses, ZDnet wrote an interesting piece a few months ago, called “Ten industries using augmented reality and virtual reality.” It includes many interesting examples and useful links. The article shows that so many industries are imagining their future worlds, that those that don’t have little chance of surviving. Think Kodak, Borders, or HMV; do you want your company added to the list of those which failed to innovate in time?

They Innovate Outside The Box

New concept development processIn too many organisations innovations are built upon reality and a company’s current skills and offers. In other words, they are more renovations than real innovations; they are just a step change from what they offer today.

New concepts developed using scenario planning tend to be faster, clearer, longer-lasting and overall more attractive. Those are the breakthrough innovations that most companies only dream about. Because they are developed with the (future) customer in mind, they also have more chance to be successful.

Technology makes what was even unthinkable just a few months or years ago, a reality today or in the very near future. Everything is moving faster and faster, so businesses must do the same. As this is rarely possible, they must already think the unthinkable today, so that they are prepared when it actually happens tomorrow.

Are you ready for the brave new world that is estimated to be just ten or twenty years from now? That’s when the point of singularity is estimated to arrive. The year when it is expected that computers become more “intelligent” than humans!

In conclusion, companies which will survive are those that innovate. And those that innovate successfully will be pro-active, not reactive. Today’s customers rarely stay satisfied for long, so we all need to “innovate in the future, not just today.”

These five habits of successful future innovators will help you to do this. I hope they have given you food for thought on what you might change to innovate more successfully.

If you have additional ideas that would help businesses to innovate more creatively why not share them below? Show your expertise!

This post includes images from “Winning Customer Centricity“. If you would like to download a free, five chapter sample, please CLICK HERE.