Innovating meanings at Business of Software

So I’ve been reading a book called Design-Driven Innovation by Roberto Verganti. It’s a good book although, as is wont by [Insert University Name Here] Press hard-covers, longer and preachier than absolutely necessary.

It tackles the topic of innovation through design that in a world of “Agile” and “Lean” we hear little about. I’d summarize it by calling it “innovation through introspection”.

As entrepreneurs, designers, developers, product managers and Agile cultists we’re taught to go out there, meet customers, discover their pain and make their world better. It’s a method that works in many kinds of organisations: start-ups, small companies and Googles. And 99% of the time its the way to go.

But there’s a 1% of the time where paying customers and end-users can’t tell you what they want because they don’t yet know they need it. For many companies, this “1% of the time” happens only once in their lifetime: the initial start-up phase. Some crazy entrepreneur convinces some crazy co-founder that what the world wants is X and they set about building it. If it works, they then spend the next 99% of their company’s existence iterating on that by talking to users. Sometimes the iterations are small (new features), sometimes a bit larger (new products) and sometimes bigger leaps (adjacent markets). But rarely does that spark in the initial 1% see the light of day again.

There are good reasons for this. If you have a market of paying customers, why risk it all? If you’re growing you need to optimize for efficiency and maneuver for market positioning and ubiquitous advertising presence. Being ‘crazy’ again is too risky and re-organising your company as Verganti suggests is a mammoth culture shift, not to mention also being rather risky.

At the moment I’m exploring the idea of fusing the Lean and Agile approaches to software development and the introspective design approach suggested by Verganti. Currently, this takes the form of a workshop that is focused on the concept of “innovating meanings”.

The basic premise is: if we identify what a product currently means, and we think laterally to produce new meanings, can we design new products we wouldn’t have imagined and ones that customers wouldn’t have asked us for?

This is all experimental. I’ve done a couple of these at Red Gate with promising results and I’ll be experimenting more on whichever guinea pigs choose my workshop – titled “Inventing Purple Cows” – at Business of Software next month.

I look forward to posting more about this when more results are in!

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3 thoughts on “Innovating meanings at Business of Software

  1. Shane says:

    I don’t agree with the 1% categorization you mentioned (I think the number is a bit higher) but your point is well taken and I largely agree. I’m looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts at BoS this year.

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