How to get inspiration for product innovation
How to get inspiration for product innovation

How to get inspiration for product innovation


Starting with a blank canvas is not the easiest thing in the world. It’s deceivingly hard. Ask the creators of the Segway. Even innovation pioneers like Amazon sometimes miss the mark with products like the Fire Phone.

Creating a brand new product or service is a long and complicated process. Creating a new digital service can easily take 9-12 months. New hardware products: two years. New Pharmaceutical Drugs: 10+ years.

But it’s the failure rate that says it all. Innovation guru Clayton Christensen claims that 95% of products fail. I think he’s conservative. It’s probably closer to a 99% failure rate. It’s this kind of odds that can make coming up with a new product a daunting challenge.

Where do you start when creating a brand new product?

You need 100% real insights. Not guesses. Real truths about human behavior and what it takes to build a product. Here are my thought starters to help you kick off a brand new product design.

Mantras for generating innovation insights:

  1. Discover what keeps people up at night
  2. Discover what brings a smile to people’s faces
  3. Discover what people are missing in their life
  4. Make a product with just one feature
  5. Make something ten times better than today’s best option
  6. Make your product like AirBnB would
  7. Know the cheapest and quickest way to make it
  8. Know the blueprint like your home
  9. Know the budget and stick to it


These mantras all assume you’ve got a rough idea of the customer and industry. The only way to get some validation of your thinking is to collaborate. Work with your end users via interviews and rapid prototyping. Also, engage your peers and partners. Especially on the feasibility mantras 7,8 and 9.

OK. Now you’ve got some insights. Now you need to start creating. Again, I would encourage you to make the end user part of this process too.

The most important thing in developing a breakthrough product is solving a problem in a new way. The more new it is, the bigger the wow factor. Just doing something 10% better is not innovation. It’s fine. It’s just an incremental improvement to an existing solution.

Innovation is something ten times better that the current solution. It needs to be remarkable. It needs to be Amazon-like. It needs to be iPhone-like.

Why? Because as human beings, we vastly overrate the things we already have. When considering something new, the ‘switching’ costs act as a large barrier to change. Creators need to offer something that’s worth the hassle of switching.

Let’s play this out in a real world scenario. You’re Microsoft, and you want to invite customers to switch from an iPhone and from using Google Search.

Microsoft is asking me to give up a phone that has all my contacts, music, apps on it. All the stuff in my house connects to the iPhone. The Chargers are all iPhone specific.

Let’s look at the Google side of things. By switching to Microsoft services such as Bing and Office365, they would be asking me to give up my search history and settings. My integration into all Google services such as Docs and YouTube.

Let’s say Microsoft can match all of these iPhone and Google functions. The reality is you’d never switch in a million years. Only matching the competition translates into asking the customer to undertake the nightmare of switching for net zero gain.

Microsoft would need to offer me a breath-taking experience in gaming via the Xbox. Perhaps they could make Skype 10x better than FaceTime or Hangouts? Maybe HoloLens could be bundled into entertainment and learning experiences?

It’s no surprise that Windows Phone, which was competing with the iPhone and Google, failed. With all the potential that Microsoft has, it was caught severely lacking in the courage to create something ten times better than its peers.

We need to be fearless as product creators. We need to tackle big problems in radically new ways. Here are some of my suggestions that can open up creative opportunities.

Questions for generating creative ideas:

  1. What’s the opposite way to how everyone else is currently doing it?
  2. What if we could not include instructions or a walk-thru?
  3. What parts can we make invisible to the user?
  4. What if we create a product that can be described in just one sentence?
  5. How would the product work if users could only use our product for 60 seconds a day?
  6. How can we make the most annoying part of the product delightful?
  7. How could we make the product better the more that people use it?
  8. How can we make the first time usage so good you have to do it again?
  9. How do we make users look good by using this product?
  10. How do we make this product a verb like Google and Hoover?


Use these above questions during the product design process and you’ll find some surprising opportunities. In fact, just ask them all the time. Apply them to your mission and you’ll find new ways to delight your customers.

In the next part of the series, we’ll look at validating the product idea and role the end user can play. I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions. Just email [email protected].


About the author

Mike is the Head of Innovation at QUALITANCE. He’s passionate about emerging technologies and experience design. Over his award-winning career, he’s worked on big innovation and marketing projects for Nike, Levi’s, Xbox, GE and many others.