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FreePint BlogInnovation: light bulb or due diligence?

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By Jan Knight


Innovation is key to start-up companies, but is it more to do with what customers want or what they cannot solve for themselves? How can companies ensure that they have what it takes to ensure success in this field?


Innovation continues to be a buzzword in business, but just what do we mean by innovation? As a market researcher working a lot with start-up companies, I often work with innovators, and like many, I tend to think of these individuals as creative, unique and often brave. Most of them are bright, confident professionals who leave a string of successes, or sometimes failures, in their wake as they focus on the latest new idea.

However, a Fast Company story 3 Ways to Predict What Consumers Want Before They Know It has reminded me that to be successful, these innovators need to be part of companies or organisations that are positioned to be able to innovate. It needs to be planned for.

Thinking of innovation being driven by research or the “voice of the customer” could take the fun out of life for some and possibly stifle the randomness of innovation. However, the Fast Company article by Scott Anthony of Innosight, the author of The Little Black Book of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It, believes that the quest to identify opportunities for innovation starts with pinpointing problems customers can’t currently adequately solve.

Those problems can be identified by watching customers or clients to see what they would like to be able to do. It involves taking note of the workarounds customers use in order to compensate for something your product or services might not do.

Innosight is just one company who prepares companies to innovate. While there are many more, one company that floated to the top while I searched for different viewpoints and definitions of Innovation is Creative Advantage, an international consulting company who cites the “innovativeness of the company being a necessary ingredient to success”.

Moving from the individual to the company, what needs to be present in a particular company for innovation to succeed? Does the company have competencies to support innovation? Can the gaps in competencies be filled? Often the innovator is not the one to manage the process of implementation of a new idea, so is that team in place?

It’s also useful to remember that Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.” Peter Drucker offered much the same advice and believed that, “the customer rarely buys what the company thinks it sells him … people don’t buy products, they pay for satisfaction.”

Innovation can manifest itself in diverse ways and not just in the innovators themselves who tend to get the most attention. Companies need to keep innovating to keep clients and customers or they will go elsewhere to find solutions.


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Jan Knight is an independent market research consultant and President of Bancroft Information Services. She provides customised business intelligence and secondary market research to consultants and companies in all industries. Her work helps to shape business plans, marketing strategies and new business development for a diverse set of clients including start-ups, technology companies, marketing strategists, and small and medium businesses.

She is a frequent presenter on market research topics at the Arizona Center for Innovation, the Technology Business Incubator associated with the University of Arizona in Tucson. Jan holds an MA in Information Resources & Library Science from the University of Arizona, and a B.A. in Renaissance/Humanities Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Originally from England, Jan moved to Tucson in 1984 and has worked in both the advertising/marketing and publishing industries before starting her own business in 2001.

Jan can be reached at

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