By Allison Engel, an Octane blog contributor
With a dose of innovation, modern problems often transform into sources of convenience. That’s because true innovation doesn’t just happen; it’s the breaking point where modern problems meet lasting solutions. Once an obstacle finds its remedy, we often wonder how we ever lived without it. Just look at your household products – thanks to DVR, you’ll never miss your favorite shows again; not to mention the squeezable ketchup bottle, which makes the arduous battle of using American’s favorite condiment a thing of the past.
These products make my life easier, and that’s at the core of true innovation: solving problems in the context of the user — meaning that innovation to some may not be as applicable to others.
Context Is Key
When we think about it, being able to record our favorite television episodes with DVR wouldn’t be nearly as applicable in a third-world country as it is in the USA. However, solutions created in one country can certainly benefit the global community. In fact, many of the niftiest innovations you use today didn’t originate in America — they came from countries trying to create a product to aid their own society. Those key benefits have found a way to trickle into products we use daily. While DVR and plastic ketchup bottles are revolutionary to us, their innovation was born out of remedying a first-world problem, not solving a third-world crisis. Services like mobile payments may simply add convenience to Americans’ lives, but in Africa, it is creating a safe-guarded, revolutionary way to exchange goods.
African entrepreneurs pioneered a payment system called m-pesa that transfers electronic payments via text message. It is now responsible for more than $25 million worth of transactions daily, and 40 percent of Kenya’s GDP moves through this currency. If only America could use mobile money to pay for small purchases, like a cheeseburger from McDonalds!
Here’s a three-step process to make your product or service truly innovative:
- Solve a Real Problem
The best products have a clear directive. Innovation comes from fully understanding the problem and how your product solves it in a whole new way.
Since it’s dangerous to carry paper money in certain parts of Africa, m-pesa ensures consumers can make safe transactions. Another groundbreaking innovation from Africa is iCow, a service that sends dairy farmers information about managing output. This is a $463 million industry in Kenya which can help dairy farmers climb out of poverty by increasing their production.
- Zero In on Your Target
You don’t have to be everything to everyone; you’ll find much more success if you focus on a single demographic that you earnestly believe your product can benefit. Hyper-focusing while you roll out your product will allow you to become a student of one area and understand your product’s impact. The better you know your target, the better you’ll understand your product’s mission.
- Use Feedback to Mold Your Product
The best course of action you can take once you bring your product to market is to listen. Most generations of products and platforms evolve from feedback; we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Innovation is a game of give and take. It’s not just ideation; it’s feedback.
Did Mark Zuckerberg ever think your grandma was going to end up on Facebook? My guess is probably not. Nine times out of 10, you must adapt to keep up with your customers, not vice versa.
Whether you’re selling baby food or a life-changing vaccine, by following this process, you can ensure your product is truly innovative and can evolve moving forward.
Allison Conkright Engel leads global marketing and operations for Dell for Entrepreneurs. Prior to Dell, Allison worked for various startups, leading their Southwest expansion efforts. She has more than 15 years of experience in media and marketing and has worked for several iconic brands. Connect with Allison on Twitter.