Everybody wants to be innovative. To be able to crank out great new ideas on demand that win in the marketplace. Of course the catch is that there is no clear path for being able to do that. Or is there? Despite the constant barage of muddy definitions for "innovation" and the constant stream of books, blog posts, and "expert opinions" out there, there are some common themes that show a useful blueprint to follow. We can start simply and get the basics in place without nearly as much drama as seems to be required.
What does it boil down to? Get to know your customers. Figure out what needs they have that aren't currently being met. Then work out a list of ideas for how you could meet those needs. Then immediately start building prototypes to get some feedback from the real world. That will help you figure out if you're on the right track. And it will show you which elements need to be tweaked. Then repeat those steps until you've got a solid product.
So how is this different from the traditional product development approach that is still so common? The main point is that it is very customer-centric throughout the design process. We're building solutions for them and we need to remember that. Secondly, the iterative loops of building, testing, and tweaking need to be on a small scale. You're trying to test ideas and pieces ahead of building the whole product. Keep a bias for action and keep taking small steps forward as often as you can.
Overly simplified? Totally. But still, it's important to remind ourselves that the fundamentals of innovation are pretty straightforward and accessible. Sure, there's plenty of room to go deeper and explore the many specialized tools for innovation. But these are things we can do today, with the resources at hand, so we can start making better solutions for our customers now.