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Innovation Doesn’t Come From the Top. Or the Bottom. It Comes From Your Customers

I was reading this week a brilliant essay by Dave Pollard entitled, “A prescription for business innovation: Creating technologies that solve basic human needs.” Pollard writes,

Innovation Starts with the Customer: If successful innovations must address an urgent human need, then the front-end of the innovation process should be situated at the point of contact with the humans expressing that need, i.e. the sales and customer service people in businesses, not the R&D laboratory or the marketing department. With some notable exceptions where the need for the innovation was only identified later, innovations coming from R&D tend to be solutions in search of problems, and those coming from Marketing tend to be solutions for which needs need to be artificially created through advertising.

If innovation doesn’t come from strong leaders, properly schooled employees, behemoth think-tanks, or from outward-bound marketing, where does it come from?
Theodore Leavitt wrote in his book, The Marketing Imagination, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” If your purpose is to get and keep profitable customers, shouldn’t your customers be you primary source of innovation?

It is no longer possible for any company to simply develop a new product based on some cool idea and throw it over the wall in hopes that marketing and sales can figure out how to create a need in someone, somewhere. Competition is too intense, customers are too demanding, and profit margins are too thin for this kind of mistake.

Innovation has to come from customers in order to drive any meaningful, sustainable profit results.