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Humans first when it comes to innovation

Innovations are usually accompanied by the fuzzy front end, by nebulous needs, by vague ideas.
Jasmin Vella, Ideator at HYVE, talks to Stefan Biel, Innovation Director at Beiersdorf, about the connection between problem, need, identification, solution and above all the human component.

Does it need a problem?

Jasmin: Idea generation focuses on people and their needs. But is that enough? To ask the consumer all the time, is that really the answer to everything?
I’m thinking of Apple’s design-driven innovation: it’s not about solving a problem a consumer has, but about anticipating a need through creative ideas and clever solutions. To anticipate the need. To surprise the user and provide him with added value that he has not missed before.
When MMS came up, I wondered why I should send photos around the world. Now in the age of Whats App, that’s what I do most. That’s not something I’ve been looking for a problem about and fuzzy front end moderately started an innovation process.
Do you believe in the design driven way and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the fuzzy front end together with the user and the design driven way?

I believe that an innovation that does not solve a consumer problem will always fail in the market

Stefan: Man is the central aspect; more precisely: his need and the recognition of his problem. The first step has to be more about problem solving than about brainstorming. Through questions, through workshops, through intuition and empathy.
I believe that an innovation that does not solve a consumer problem will always fail in the market. That the examples you have given are innovations that address problems and solve problems that only existed in the future or problems that only affected small groups. Of which no one was aware of. But these problems can be described very precisely in retrospect. The MMS certainly solved problems for certain people in the past; the target group was infinitesimally small and the costs were enormous.
However, I believe that the more you can derive / make / define a problem from the initial situation, the more successful the product you generate from it will be. People who originally said they didn’t have a problem then recognize it as one and want a solution.

Jasmin: But what about creativity / empathy / craziness / audacity? Brainwriting allows me to generate a lot of creative ideas, because it’s the expression of people’s problems, you don’t know why you want that. You have ideas and can only trace them back to a problem in the second step. If I had started with the problem, I might be totally blocked.
So I start fuzzy, open up, prioritize from gut feeling. And with complex ideas, I start the process all over again, define jobs to be done and proceed in a structured way like a scientist.

Stefan: That seems to be a contradiction to what I said. But I don’t see it as a contradiction, but as complete agreement. I think it is absolutely right to sit down and ask ourselves: What are we doing? The answer can be: we are looking for a problem. We are looking for added value. The answer can be, we write down all the great ideas we have and see what’s inside.
We filter ideas through brainwriting, ideation sessions, we ask consumers and make competitions. In order to define the pearls there, you have to think about every solution: why would someone want to buy exactly this solution? What problem / question / life situation would this project be the only answer to? The stronger the problem, the greater the probability that the project will be successful. In other words, the more I think I have a problem, the more I try to find a solution. Versus: I don’t need added value at all.

Jasmin: So we don’t evaluate the ideas, we evaluate the problems?

Stefan: Actually, the question is: is it an unsolved problem? The solution is of third rank. It is important to clarify: does the problem really exist? And is it not properly addressed so far? That is feasible!
What you call gut feeling is not one. There is a thought process behind it. The gut instinct questions: is it a pressure of suffering and is it a solution for the pressure of suffering. Good and bad gut feeling differs in the ability to analyse without controlling and steering it.
A feeling for problem relevance. To enter into other identities. How well are you able not to think like someone else, but to be and feel as someone else.

Empathic superheroes?

Jasmin: You have an idea and you clatter through all the characters that could be – like a superhero.

Stefan: Good product solutions need people who can not only imagine the consumer’s world from the purchase of the product to its disposal, but also understand it. They experience it themselves. Steve Jobs did this with products before people even knew that they had these problems. For an idea to be well put together, it needs a good product, good packaging, a target group and a concept. And a good Ideation Session will always answer these questions. It’s not THE product, it’s THE product FOR someone IN A certain situation.

The problem should always be an emotional one. To solve a technical problem I don’t need a product workshop. I look for a group of techies and nerds and say: find a solution.

Jasmin: And what about products that just make it more fun? Then isn’t having no fun the problem?

Stefan: Yes!
To work out the emotional level of a product in a workshop, to endure and maintain the tension of: that is technologically irrelevant, but it will make people happy. This is the point of tension where many innovation projects fail, because then you have many people/characters who don’t want to make a decision against logic.
The problem should always be an emotional one. To solve a technical problem I don’t need a product workshop. I look for a group of techies and nerds and say: find a solution.

Jasmin: Do problems have to be raised or can they be invented?

Stefan: I personally think that must happen on the basis of gut feeling. I have seen such things work on the basis of such a gut feeling. The most successful project we did was massively pursued because we followed my gut feeling and the problematic user situation (of deodorant) and was convinced that we couldn’t be alone with it.
Then we rationalized it and collected data, but we also believed in it without data. Without data, it would have failed; but that wouldn’t have said anything about how good the solution was. Black and White.

Jasmin: What’s the bottom line? It doesn’t matter if you leave the fuzzy front end fuzzy, it only depends on the person going through the process and their ability to solve problems.

Stefan: That’s the point I keep coming back to.
Unfortunately, it’s totally banal, but I believe that the role of the human being in these processes is essential.


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