Keeping Purpose at the Center of Innovation

Amy DeTavis, Director of Innovation at The DO School, poses the question: How can #WeEmerge from this crisis and operate from a place of purpose rather than simply just profit? Read on to find out more.

Amy DeTavis, Director of Innovation at The DO School, poses the question: How can #WeEmerge from this crisis and operate from a place of purpose rather than simply just profit? Read on to find out more.

“Brands with purpose grow, companies with purpose last, and people with purpose thrive.” 

Alan Jope, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many of us an opportunity for introspection, taking stock of what’s important. Individuals, communities, governments and companies alike are forced to define, or be defined, by how they’ve responded to the crisis. Many businesses will focus on fundamentals, making defensive moves in order to protect their bottom-line. Smart companies will continue to feed their innovation pipeline, allocating resources that will pave the path for growth and resilience. But hopefully with a refreshed lens of support, empathy and purpose. 

As many organizations take the opportunity during this crisis to use their resources, workforce and creative energy for the greater good, how can we learn from this and build a stronger sense of purpose into our innovation framework? How can #WeEmerge from this crisis and operate from a place of purpose rather than simply just profit? 

It’s undeniable that our current circumstances will fundamentally change how we think, work, and interact with each other. Hopefully for the better. And hopefully not just now, but in our next generation of products, services and operations. 

As a consultant, I’m passionate about helping companies build their innovation initiatives to drive a more purpose-driven economy by intentionally building purpose into the foundation of an innovation program and product development process. Here are a few ways to keep purpose at the center of innovation:  

1. Innovations should be a natural extension of the company mission. 

The benefits of any given innovation project need to emerge as a relevant and believable extension of the overall company mission. This keeps new products and services consistent and authentic to a company’s core purpose. When companies stray from their core mission to chase a new technology that might not align, customer trust and credibility start to erode. Technology should work as an enabler to enhance a customer’s experience. Technology for technology’s sake is always a short-sighted proposition. 

2. Intentionally design for  positive environmental and/or social impact. 

This is perhaps one of the criteria most obviously missing from most innovation strategies. Unless a particular initiative is specifically meant to solve an environmental or social challenge, many companies simply don’t take this aspect into consideration. As consumer demand for businesses to be held accountable for their environmental footprint and social impact, companies will have to be much more intentional about building this into their innovation framework. 

3. Does this meaningfully improve the quality of life for users? Really?

Most companies have the intention of enhancing, in some way, the life of their customers. However, I’ve seen time-and-time again that many businesses fail to ask themselves what problem they’re solving before heading down a very involved and often expensive product development journey. 

Even companies that pride themselves on being “customer centric” often don’t practice what they preach. And the only way to know if a product will meaningfully improve the quality of life or experience for a user (emphasis on meaningfully), is through the perspective of the user. If you don’t have this first-hand point-of-view, then it’s just educated guessing and speculation.  

We recently worked with a partner to test a new product concept. While we received mostly positive customer feedback on the concept, it was also evident that the innovation was not solving an actual, existing problem for our target user. It was a cool idea, but not a meaningful and relevant improvement. So we pivoted our efforts to focus on other innovations that had more impact. 

4. Ensure diverse perspectives are built into the process. 

In urban planning, there is a specific process that brings together all relevant disciplines to create a plan that considers every aspect and requirement for an integrated, balanced outcome. This process, known as a charette, includes everyone from local citizens, city officials, architects, transportation engineers, parks and recreation officials, etc. – ensuring every perspective of the community is represented and considered. 

A thorough and diverse set of perspectives are equally important when developing new products and services. This is an aspect of innovation that The DO School has built into our process through a co-creation methodology, deliberately including both internal and external “co-creators” from the onset of a project. Our co-creators represent not only a diversity of demographics, but also different disciplines, professional backgrounds and experience levels. This extends both to internal teams as well as end-users, allowing for more creative, innovative, relevant solutions.

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