Monday, December 1, 2008

Empathy is a Complex Ingredient of Innovation

The Wall Street Journal had an article on what innovation means to small business. Dev Patnaik, the founder of Jump Associates is interviewed. In it, he identifies complexities modern businesses face like, "How can my company stand out from the competition?". He goes on to list three ingredients to innovate: Empathy, creativity and execution.

"Empathy is about getting employees out in the real world. If you work for a company that makes kitchen tools, you should go hang out with the chefs that use kitchen tools."

While I agree that these three areas are important to innovation, the example in the quote above seemed to oversimplify what really needs to go on here. Just as companies must evolve to ask more complex questions, they also can't simply visit chefs in their kitchens. There is only so much low-hanging innovation fruit to be picked. Spending time with customers should be a ubiquitous part of the product lifecycle. Seeing it offered here as a "tip" speaks volumes. 

To go through the process of observing and interviewing customers and synthesizing it into new products & features is not a simple act. If you don't have trained people in the right places in your company, you can end up with products that aren't what your customers really wanted. Make sure if you are going into the kitchen to talk to those chefs that your company knows what to do with those observations.

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