"Zoo's vs. Jungles" - where to find the "real" sources of innnovation

Today's reflection focuses on 2 key phases of any innovation journey that have become core practices for us over the years: Listening and Learning. These are also the most messy, time-intensive and often seemingly unstructured parts of any engagement - which is why many organisations just skip them or fast-forward them as much as possible. We often hear about the importance of "falling in love with problems" or staying out of "solution-mode" for as long as possible, so it's been rather surprising to note how much time pressure is applied to corporate innovation efforts - often caused by an unclear innovation mandate or lack of buy-in from senior leadership, so that the innovation team keeps on having to prove a business case for innovation.

This often means that many so-called innovation initiatives are underpinned by quite weak and backward-looking market or customer insights. We prefer to spend as much time as possible in the "listening" and "learning" mode before jumping into action, so prefer to use more exploratory research methods instead of confirmatory ones like focus groups, questionnaires or user acceptance testing. This is even more important when looking at any issue involving solutions for a complex, future market environment - see here for some inspiration.

In research we use the metaphor: if you want to learn how the lion hunts, go tho the jungle not the zoo. In order to understand how your organisation and it's offerings can add value to and fit into peoples complex lives to solve a real problem, you need to spend as much time as possible with them in their natural habitat - using a variety of ethnographic research methods that will generate sufficient rich, "thick" data to bring back into a co-creation environment for further analysis and reflection. This is especially true in an environment where we are confronted with lots of "thin" or big data, so we know exactly "what" people are doing at any given moment, but still lack an understanding of the "why" behind their behaviour - which no questionnaire will ever tell us.

This also means that you need to build or partner with a next-generation research practice - see here for some good foundational thinking. There is also some really good reading about how deeper people insights can spark real innovation e.g. "The Moment of Clarity" and "Sensemaking" by the people at ReD Associates.