Innovation spurs the market to keep on its toes, which makes producers continue to provide better products for consumers. But I think companies should be careful of innovation for innovation’s sake.
I hear car commercials talk about innovation like it’s something they buy off the shelf. That’s the wrong way to approach building a better product. Innovation is a new solution to user problems and it’s not another buzzword or gimmick.
Many organizations aspire to be thought leaders within their industry, innovating because people inside the organization know what would actually make things better and not just to sell more widgets.
The entire idea of the GE Garage is to inspire creation of new things. Their facility has an entire fabrication shop complete with welders, laser cutters, 3D printers and an injection molder to let both adults and kids get experience with the tools that are used to create.
It’s a welcoming environment where people are encouraged to design things, print them out, tinker with electronics and produce the types of products we might usually be tempted to associate with seeing “Made in China” on the back.
I believe everyone is capable of building new products. Our society just need to provide a little bit of help and inspiration to get people making. The stories about innovation are all around us.
At the GE Garage, I had the opportunity to meet class instructors who had their lives changed because they saw a need which turned their business upside-down and drove them to use wireless modules to create a great product.
In New York, it gets cold. Because most people rent, they don’t get access to change the furnace settings whenever they want. Some landlords were keeping the temperature in the building uncomfortably low to save money by not providing heat to tenants.
Long story short, to correct the situations, New York passed a law mandating the minimum amount of heating building owners were required to provide.
Regulations were created to require landlords to monitor the temperature throughout the building and report back to the state for compliance purposes, should anyone complain they weren’t getting enough heating.
HouseLynx found out about this need and created a innovative new product that allowed building owners to sample temperatures from around their buildings wirelessly and log it to a central server. Because the units were wireless and they didn’t have to pay for someone to walk around and collect the data or wire any cables to get the data out, they were able to keep the cost of the solution low.
They even made them smart, able to wake themselves and go to sleep so their batteries last about two years, resulting in crazy low maintenance costs. They solved a problem in a quick and easy way allowing the owners to meet the requirements without adding another large cost to implement and maintain a solution.
The guys at HouseLynx are a great example of how the maker movement transforms companies because they originally wanted to do home automation with their little startup, but they ended up designing a product to fill a niche they didn’t even know existed. Now they are producing hundreds of units trying to keep up with demand and improve their software.
I hope this culture of building things yourself continues to grow. The spirit of the whole maker movement is critical to our nation’s ability to be innovative.
BrandExtract helps push companies to innovate all the time. By asking the right questions we help companies position themselves as thought leaders and find new niches they can move into with their knowledge.
Yet I think that BrandExtract has room for innovation, too. So here is my challenge to the whole company: let’s make a hardware product. With new tools available like Arduino and Processing, people are able to concept and build new gadgets very quickly.
For example, one creative agency built something for a bakery across the street which they frequented. They created a purpose-driven device called BakerTweet which allows bakers to easily tweet the status of fresh goodies, using a little box mounted in the kitchen instead of a cumbersome laptop.
Customers now know when treats have just come out of the oven.
It’s simple, cheap and has been a fast success. We could create these things for our clients, too.
After spending time at the GE Garage and musing over seemingly endless possibilities for making something myself, I’ve had a bunch of ideas for what we could implement. Perhaps the most compelling place to start would be to design a scavenger hunt experience that has people scan badges from the people who staff booths at conference or trade show in order to collect achievements, win prizes, or enter drawings.
I was at SXSW 2012 this year and noticed all the badges had RFID chips in them, but was very surprised to discover that no one was putting that technology to use for their brand.
We could be the ones who gamify trade-show marketing and change the landscape with a new experience.
Product innovation is about taking something old, stripping it down and then building it back up better than ever before. It’s a tough process and not every new idea will lead to innovation, but if you work hard with the right goals in mind you just might be able to do something truly disruptive in your industry and be labeled as one of those thought leaders that changed the game forever.