Have you ever looked at a new product or service and thought to yourself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” You see such a genius (yet simple) solution to a problem so many people have. Except you didn’t think of it. Someone else did.

You want to build a product your customers will love. But you start to think there are no more great ideas to be had. You give up and lose hope. Then it happens again, and again.

There’s a way to fix that. And it’s quite easy.

In this blog post, you’re going to learn:

  • The one thing that gives birth to all new innovations
  • What you need to start noticing before you can unlock your best ideas
  • The 4 steps to becoming a badass innovator


Where all innovations come from

Whether it’s selling ugly produce for cheap while reducing waste. Or renting homes that would have stayed empty anyways. Or crowdsourcing everyday people to help you move on demand. All these ideas have something in common.

They all came from someone observing the way things were and realizing there was a better way.

The founders of Imperfect Produce saw a lot of food going to waste every day. There was nothing wrong with the food, except that it was “ugly”. What if they sold it for cheap, while also reducing unnecessary waste?  To date, Imperfect Produce has brought in about $10 million in equity funding, including a $9 million round in May 2017, per an SEC filing, that valued the company at $40 million. 

The founders of AirBnB saw a lot of homes staying empty for most of the year. They also saw travelers having a much impersonal (and expensive) experience at hotels. What if home owners could rent their places while not in use? In 2017 Airbnb raised $448 million in funds through a Series F funding round, bringing the value of the company to about $38 billion.

You get the idea. All these innovations were born from a dissatisfaction with the way things were.


“I’m not unhappy, I’m a designer”

I don’t know if I coined this phrase or what. But it fits well with how I look at the world. Since my job is to design experiences, I’m always aware of the way things are and how they could be better.

My goal is to now give you the same lens to use as you go about your life. It’s a great lens for becoming an expert innovator in the products and services you’ll create.

I want you to think about this. Everything manmade has been designed, whether the creator was aware of it or not. This makes every creator, a designer. Which doesn’t mean that every creation is innovative. There are a lot of bad creations out there.

Think back to a time when you called customer service and had to enter all your information while you waited. When someone finally answered the phone, they asked you to repeat the same stuff all over again. Frustrating, right? Yet, it happens all the time. Noticing all the bad experiences you come across means you’ll start to see a lot of room to improve and innovate.

Now, compare this to Apple’s customer support. On their website, you select a few options to narrow down the type of problem you’re having. You log in or enter your computer’s serial number to identify your registered products. Then, someone calls you within 2 minutes. Yes, they call you, not the other way around. When you answer the phone, they already know who you are and have all your information. No having to provide a customer number, a passcode, yadda, yadda, yadda.

As a customer, I feel respected and treated like a human being. Apple improved the process of getting support by observing how things were and doing it better.

Here’s the good news: Innovation is a skill that you can learn and develop. The more you practice, the more you’ll strengthen your creativity muscles.

Innovation is a mindset, a different way of looking at the world. It’s not something you only do from 9 to 5, or only during brainstorms.

Ready to put your innovator’s lens on? Below are 4 steps to put in practice as you go about your life. You’ll come up with more ideas you thought possible by changing the way you look at how things are.


4 steps to becoming an expert innovator


1. Realize that everything manmade has been designed. Ask yourself: Is there a better way?

As you move through the world, realize that someone designed everything you see. Whether they realized it or not. Every design exists to solve a particular problem or achieve a particular task. Observe how the design is solving the problem. Ask yourself: Is there a better way?


2. Notice moments of friction

Be aware of the steps you take when interacting with something, and notice where there’s friction. Friction is any moment of uncertainty, confusion or frustration.


3. Identify the source of friction

Identify what the friction means. Are you frustrated because the action you wanted to take is not available? Are you confused because the next step is not obvious?


4. Make a note of what the issue is. Think of 3 ways it could be done better.

Make a note of what the issue is. Then think of 3 ways you think it could be done better. As yourself the “what if…” questions. For instance, when waiting for a customer service representative, you notice a moment of friction and ask yourself “What if they could call me back instead?” Or if you think a bike is taking up too much space in your house, ask yourself “What if I could ditch this bike and pick up a bike on demand just when I need it?”


Thinking this way will put you in the right mindset the next time you’re working on a project where you need to innovate. The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to identify sources of friction. Every source of friction represents an opportunity to innovate.

If you take away one thing from this post, remember this:
Sources of friction (frustration, confusion, or uncertainty) = opportunities to innovate.


Now that you know how to put your innovator’s lens on, let’s look at grocery checkout as an example.

It all started with the farmer behind the stand of freshly picked produce directly from their own farms, helping you choose what to buy, then handling your payment.
Friction: a grocer can only serve one person at a time. It’s personable, but it doesn’t scale.

Grocery stores introduced cashiers. Now there was specialization, one person displaying the produce while several were taking money.
Friction: long lines and long waits.

More recently, barcodes allowed cashiers to ring through faster.
Friction: people with a few items had to wait relatively long times behind people with carts full of stuff. There were disproportionate wait times depending on what you had in your cart.

Grocery stores introduced self-checkout stations.
Friction: The experience is faster, but not so easy to use. It still needs to get fine-tuned and iterated.


The current innovative solution
Amazon Go & grocery buying services, such as Instacart. At Amazon Go you bypass the checkout process altogether. Just grab and go. With Instacart, you don’t even need to leave your house. These are two distinct but innovative ways to solve the grocery checkout problem. What are some other ways you can come up with?


The takeaway

For every problem, there’s an endless supply of solutions. Innovation is not about finding the one way of solving a problem. There are many ways. If you see a solution out there, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other solutions waiting to be discovered.

I hope that by now you feel that innovation and creativity are not such a black box after all. It’s all about being aware of moments throughout your day that could be better. And doing something about it.


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