5 steps to foster innovation with social research

Nowadays, it’s not possible to consider a product, service or solution that is designed without using a human-centered approach, at least if it’s aimed to be used by humans!  If you want to be innovative, that becomes even more crucial.

Let’s start by the beginning…

What is exactly “innovation”?

This is somehow a fuzzy term, fancy at the same time, but unclear and overall, overused.You might think that you have to do something big, completely new or different to be considered “innovative”, but this is actually not true!

All of us are innovative, in one way or another. Think about recent services, products or solutions that have become very popular and innovative within the last few years, were they bringing something completely new or different? Most of the times, not really. They were just solving an old problem in a new way, or even solving an old problem in an old way but in a new environment.

Think about the Google Glasses, they were considered an innovation, but they were doing the something already existent but in a device that was historically used for something completely different. It happens the same with services like Deliveroo or Spotify, are they doing something completely new? Absolutely not, they are just doing something already existent but in a new environment or using new tools.

Taking a closer look at these examples and the moment in time in which they appeared, they all have one thing in common:They were just solving relevant problems aligning the solution with the raising trends of the moment, and that is actually what made them become a successful “innovation”. And just to clarify, an innovation doesn’t need to be “tech-related”, it’s about finding a relevant way to solve a problem adapting efficiently to the times.

How can I use social insights and trends to innovate?

Being proactive and constantly listening to what is motivating people, frustrating them, what are their everyday habits and more importantly, the root causes and reasons of all these is what will help you uncover opportunities for innovation. However, this is not enough, for an innovation to be perceived as such it has to be also aligned with emerging and mainstream trends.

There are 5 main steps that will help you find the right direction. However, bear in mind that this requires exploring options in advance, and also practice! The more this process is part of your routine, the more agile you will be become and your eye will be more trained to spot the right signs and connect the dots quickly.

1.- Explore

Set up a recurrent process of listening and observing the people you are aiming to reach. There are many tools and approaches you can take for this, you can find some ideas here.

It’s important that this becomes part of your everyday. The more you do it, the more you will identify opportunities for you. You will be able to uncover certain insights easily or in a short period of time, but usually the most important ones need deeper investigation, as these are the things that happen spontaneously or unconsciously and are not evident in at a first glance.

Different research approaches and tools will be needed in this face.

2.- Collect

Take notes, pictures, recordings, anything that can help you track the things that surprise you, that you find interesting or that you would like to explore further.

It’s important that you uncover emotional, behavioural and motivational aspects, but also that you measure them in a quantitative way to understand how much of it is just an isolated case or a common element for a relevant amount of people.

At the end of this step you should be able to define specific problems that could be solved. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a live-changing problem, it can be anything that is relevant for the people at a functional, emotional or aspirational level.

3.- Contrast

Take a look at the big picture. What’s going on in the society in this current moment? What are the mainstream and the emerging trends? What are the events that are currently changing people’s behaviours? Remember that things that start in the other side of the world will arrive here sooner or later. Also, whatever has already started in a complete different industry might apply to yours at some point in the near of far future.

You can use the trends cards for inspiration.

4.- Ideate

Once you have the problems and relevant trends identified, now it’s the time to start ideating around how you can solve the problems in a way that is aligned with the trends you have identified. For this you can use visuals that represent the trends identified, as well as quotes and visuals that represent the problem(s).

In the ideation session, you should consider things like:

  • What experience and perception of your solution do you want your end users to have?
  • What is you capacity (technical, logistics, etc.) to make it happen?
  • How much time will you need to make it happen?
  • What’s the value for the end-user vs. the effort that will require from you?
  • How is this going to place your solution vs. other possible solutions out there?

At the end of the ideation process, you should be able to have a set of possible solutions prioritised by relevance for the user and effort required from you.

5.- Conceptualise & Test

At this stage, it’s the moment to start building a more detailed version of your ideas, something very simple and low-effort, but more developed. It can be a sketch with an explanation of how it will work, a very simple visual of the solution or something similar. The important thing here is that it doesn’t require much investment from your side and it’s still easy to understand and visualise.

The concepts that you define will need to be tested with the people that they are aimed at. In this way, you can get a sense of what’s the level of acceptance, concerns and perceptions about it.

You have to bear in mind that since this is something completely new, some people might be reluctant, but it’s important that you capture the reasons why some people doesn’t like it to understand how much of is because it’s new or because it still needs improvement.

Conclusion

You can also be innovative and bring solutions that are unprecendented, you just need to invest time on it, have a structured methodology, understand your users and be tenacious.