One reason why innovation is tricky

There's lots of reasons.

I love innovation – helping people to develop new ideas for products, services and ways of working and then helping them turn those ideas into action.

Innovation is tricky though.

People generally are not keen to change (even if they say they are) and innovating in an organisation is often an exercise in finding the balance between collaboration, negotiation and bloody mindedness.

And getting insight into audience needs is riddled with subtleties that you can try and interpret and sometimes it’s just unfathomable; what people say and do are not necessarily the same thing, needs change over time, and whilst we might have audience persona groups that we know a lot about, fundamentally humans are all unique individuals with quirks, exceptions and idiosyncrasies.

Last week I was queuing for my sandwich, and I chose, in my opinion the classic sandwich of choice – cheese and pickle. Fills you up. Has crunch. Doesn’t slip or fall apart when eaten. A reliable sandwich.

This one looked particularly good, and I made a comment to the person next to me in the queue about what a great sandwich cheese and pickle is. The conversation went like this.

Me: ‘Oh – I love a cheese and pickle sandwich’

Other person: ‘Yea I love the taste – but I don’t like the lumps in the pickle’

Me: ‘What about the really small chunk pickle?’

Other person: ‘No – still too lumpy –  it’s something about the lumps, even the small ones I don’t like’

Me: ‘They should make lumpless pickle – why don’t they do that?’

Other person: ‘They do!’

Me: ‘Oh wow – I didn’t know that!. What’s it like?’

Other person: ‘I’ve never tried it.’

Me: ‘Oh’

The pickle focus group and the pickle eating survey would have found out that lumps were putting some customers off from buying pickle. My assumption was that removing the lumps would be a solution. But just because someone doesn’t like lumps doesn’t necessarily mean they’d like or want smooth pickle.

And there we have it. Innovation is tricky and is not linear or straightforward. What people tell you and what people do (or really want) can often be different. And the assumptions we make are often wrong.

What assumptions are you making that might be wrong? What are the hidden assumptions (every project has them)? And how might you reveal them and test them out?

This is just one reason why innovation is tricky. I’ll be sharing more over the coming months. Or if you’d like to chat then drop me a line at or book a time to talk here.

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