One simple test to tell if your new product idea is a keeper or just a fling

Developing a new product is hard and I’m talking from first-hand experience.

When the new product is your idea it’s easy to fall in love with it. When you fall in love you don’t see faults and flaws. You can only see beauty.

If you have a strategy for innovation it is likely that you are developing ideas that are a combination of furthering your organisation’s mission and solving a problem for your customer. Your customers’ problem is often uncovered through insights, solicited through a range of methods including focus groups, surveys, interviews, feedback or simply spending time with and observing your customers behaviour.

Observations over time can reveal a lot and we often identify solutions to problems that customers didn’t even know they had – and a new product is born!

However, if something is genuinely new you have to convince your customer that the new product is the thing they can’t live without. None of us knew we needed the Internet, coconut water or mobile phones. I remember resigning to the fact I was going to have to get a mobile phone but I swore I’d only use it for emergencies. Ten years later I take my phone everywhere with me. I’ve even been known to check it on the toilet for fear of something catastrophic happening if I don’t look at it for a minute.

Right now, I do feel that something catastrophic might happen if I let my phone and access to the Internet out of my sight because I just launched a crowdfund campaign.

Is my idea a keeper or just a fling?

I thought a crowdfund would be the fastest way to test a concept I’ve fallen in love with directly with customers and hopefully provide some objectivity. I also get to raise the money to get the concept off the ground at the same time. It’s how I’m finding out if my idea is a keeper or a fling. And it’s happening right now.

My insight is through my work as an innovation consultant. I work with individuals and organisations helping them to think differently, have confidence in their creativity and make their good ideas happen.

Over the years I’ve noticed it doesn’t really matter how much budget you have or what tech or data is available. It doesn’t even matter how good the idea is. People are the ones that make good ideas happen and they are also what stops innovation.

I focus my energies on helping people have the strategies, skills and courage to make change happen. I’ve been shocked by how little support people require to really flourish and achieve so much more than they think is possible. I’m equally shocked by how little budget organisations put aside for these softer skills and their most important asset – their people.

I’ve just finished an innovation leadership report, (which you can download from www.lucidity.org.uk/freestuff) which compounds what I’ve learned from my hands-on work. The report is a series of interviews with an eclectic mix of innovators. The interviews revealed that the five most important innovation enablers are focus, understanding your audience, resilience to keep going despite knockbacks, support from others and the most important enabler to successful innovation was simply making time to think.

So, my idea is the Lucidity Network – a mix of online and offline learning and support – helping you to carve out the time to focus and think clearly, matched up with a network of people to provide encouragement and support to keep you going when it gets tough.

If people like the idea, they join the network by backing the crowd fund. This avoids the scenario when people say, ‘oh yes, if you launch it I’ll sign up,’ because what people say they’ll do and what people actually do are two different things.

If this works it means I have enough money to get the Lucidity Network going together with some early adopters giving me feedback on the product.

If I don’t raise the target I give the backers their money back and nothing happens. I’ll either conclude that it’s a good idea and people don’t understand why they need it and have another go – or concede to failing fast.

Check out the Lucidity Network – if you think it’s a good idea then back it and share with your friends and colleagues. The fate of the Lucidity Network lies with you – in the customer’s hands.

When you spot an opportunity you have to go for it

mumandbabyonline.co.uk does what it says on the tin. It’s an information portal for parents-to-be and new parents so they can sign up in one place to all the best baby clubs, offers and information available.

There are about 800,000 babies born in the UK every year and having a baby is high on the list of life-changing events. Parents-to-be and new parents are hungry for information. And there is a LOT available – as well as brands wanting to get their products in front of new customers.

Government legislation, medical advice and World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on child health changes with new research and advances in medicine. Sometimes when parents-to-be or new parents search online they can receive conflicting information and advice. This can be confusing and stressful, especially for first time parents.

In the back end of 2009, with a data management background, Lyndsey Marshall was working at Emma’s Diary – a company which offers parenting advice for parents-to-be and new parents. The amount of different information and products on the market could be overwhelming. She saw new parents spending hours signing up to everything only to be bombarded by information that may not be relevant to their personal circumstances.

Lyndsey saw first-hand the impact of how the guidance on infant feeding was becoming increasingly difficult for companies and brands to communicate to parents through traditional channels, and for parents to be informed appropriately. Highly conscious that this key audience were hungry for information on how best to feed and nurture their little-ones, she set about investigating alternative routes to market.

“I believe that all parents have the right to know what options are available to feed their babies, and be communicated to appropriately within the context of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk substitutes”

Lyndsey spotted an opportunity. The two most prominent players in the market place at the time were Bounty and Emma’s Diary, who were linked to the NHS. Whilst their relationship through this channel helped get their communications in front of parents-to-be and new parents via GP’s or hospitals, they were restricted in their ability to communicate information on infant nutrition and feeding.

Lyndsey saw there was an opening in the market for a single portal unrelated to the NHS, to enable brands who wish to communicate their baby-related products to a key and receptive life-stage audience of parents-to-be and new parents, thus, enabling them to access vital information on infant feeding and receive consistent and reliable information as well as choice of the best products in the market.

“Having worked with the key brands in the mum and baby market and built up strong relationships, I felt I could offer them a solution for their future communications which had become more restricted at the time as well as offer a solution for the consumer.”

Lyndsey knew the expectant mum and new baby marketplace, with 10 years’ experience and a background in data and sales at the time and crucially had relationships with the baby brands.

So she researched and set up a website and mumandbabyonline.co.uk was born in 2010 – a portal that enables the consumer to sign up only once to join the many baby clubs listed on the site.

The site acts as an independent source for key parenting brands, including those offering infant nutrition, and through the brands listed, provides the most up to date information, products and services which parents can choose to hear from at times which will help them bring up their newborn. Leading brands range from (and not limited to) baby clubs, baby food and milks to cash back sites.

Since its birth there has been constant site testing to ensure the right audience is attracted to sign up and that the website content is appropriate. Additionally ensuring client satisfaction is high throughout – which has proved to be the case as many of the original brands are still working with them.

Seven years later Lyndsey keeps the business lean, managing overheads in relation to income, with the core team which has expanded over the years to include social media experts.

As mumandbabyonline.co.uk continues to grow, activity is paid for on either on a cost per lead or retained basis and they have adapted accordingly to market needs. The site is now mobile optimised as more and more people are accessing the internet via mobile and tablet.

Having now established itself as a key player in the mum and baby arena, it is important for the business to remember its roots and balance the demands of its core client base with the changing consumer demands and behaviour. Site testing and exploration of aligned markets is ongoing, and adherence to any data legislation such as GDPR is as paramount as ever.

“I’m very excited about the future of the business, as more brands come on board and experience the quality of the data that mumandbabyonline.co.uk can deliver them, which means their brands have consumer engagement which ultimately leads them to be profitable.”

Lyndsey’s advice for anyone who has spotted an opportunity…

  • If you spot an opportunity – just go for it. If you don’t someone else will.
  • Check the opportunity is ‘real’, i.e. big enough to sustain a living. Don’t spend £1,000s until you are as sure as you can be that the ‘product/service’ will sell.
  • Don’t give up the day job until you prove the concept is a good idea and will provide you with an income.
  • Be aware of your competitors as the landscape often changes – don’t assume if your competitors are doing something similar they will be successful – first to market often has its advantages.
  • Put the consumer at the heart of what you are doing – it’s about them not you.
  • Busy people make stuff happen – surround yourself with other busy people.
  • Be absolutely clear on what your proposition is and how it adds value to your customer.
  • Think about how your product is different to other offers in the market – have a clear proposition that differentiates you.

If you like this blog you might like the new Innovation Leadership Launchpad – a mix of case stories and practical tips to help you innovate. Order your free copy straight into your inbox today. 

Have you ever questioned your own existence?

Manchester Camerata is one of Europe’s leading chamber orchestras based in Manchester.

Several years ago the team realised that their audiences were dwindling and that they needed to do something different if the orchestra was to survive.

They sat down and questioned their own existence. What was their purpose? What was their revised vision and mission in a rapidly changing world which looked very different from the world of 1972 when the orchestra was founded?

They revised their core purpose ‘to create inspiring experiences through music that connect with everyone every time.’ And in order to achieve this have, over the last few years redefined what an orchestra can do.

Manchester Camerata has shifted from just classical music to offer a bold range of musical experiences; from their Hacienda Classical gigs, where they cover acid house anthems in a range of venues, to opening the pyramid stage at Glastonbury 2017 as well as playing live film soundtracks and performing in rock venues.

Since its bold reinvention in 2014, Camerata has tripled its audience.

Camerata in the Community

An integral part of Manchester Cameratas’ work is to use music as a tool to develop skills that improve quality of life for people of all ages. The work is research-led and driven by the needs of participants, working alongside national agendas around arts and health, and cultural education.

The community programme started over 20 years ago through work in schools as some of the members of the orchestra with children wanted to be able to use their musical skills to engage with young people. A couple of years later, they developed the ‘Songlines’ project for young people with Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) alongside the Royal Exchange Theatre. This opened their eyes to how music can help people with extra needs to express themselves and be creative.

That inspired the creation of programmes of work with older people in 2006 which involves the composition of music, theatre and visual art with people in care homes, hospitals, day care centres and other community venues.

In 2012, Camerata began working with Music Therapists as part of their Music in Mind programme for people living with dementia and their carers. Research and evaluation are at the heart of this programme and a partnership with the University of Manchester has enabled a PhD student to conduct a research study  to create a multi-sensory tool to measure the ‘in the moment’ musical experiences for people living with dementia. This research will become available in 2018 and will inform Camerata’s future delivery model.

In an evaluation conducted by HKD Research in 2015 – 2017 assessing the impacts of Music in Mind in six care homes in Greater Manchester, Manchester Camerata discovered that the project made a positive impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of people with dementia. It was shown that these benefits increased the longer that a participant engaged with the sessions and regular attendance led to an improved mood, reduced levels of anxiety, reduced levels of repetitive behaviour, an increase in social interaction levels as well as an increase in confidence to express oneself musically.

Some participants have even reduced their medication and need for other health services as a result, and the music sessions have also helped make carers’ daily tasks easier to undertake.

Music in Mind has now gone international and the team have been to Japan twice as part of the British Council’s Arts and Ageing Society programme to give Japanese musicians the skills and knowledge to use this approach in their local care settings.

Robbie and Chris

Robbie and Chris have attended Manchester Camerata projects since 2015. Robbie said;

“My wife Chris had only recently been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s when we were told about a music and visual arts project run by Manchester Camerata. We didn’t know what to expect but we liked singing so thought we’d give it a go.”

“Over the next 12 weeks or so, we really looked forward to those weekly sessions but still had no clue as to where it was all leading. As the ‘mystery tour’ unfolded, we had such fun singing and making music with other people – before we knew it, we’d created a fantastic piece of visual art and composed songs to go with it, all with the help and guidance of people from Camerata, who seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as we were!”

“What remains as a powerful memory is the smiles on peoples’ faces, the laughter and the realisation that this sort of experience can bring forth creativity and energy from people with dementia that they didn’t know they had – and actually, it was exactly the same for the carers taking part. We’re already looking forward to the next one!” 

Challenges

There are always challenges to doing something new. Planning and balancing the demand for projects with the capacity of management and practitioner teams is a difficult but positive issue. As the population ages and people live longer with more complex needs, more care staff will be needed. One of the ways the team is tackling this is through a training programme for carers and activities coordinators in care homes and hospitals so that they can continue delivering music sessions once a Music in Mind project ends.

In 2017, Manchester Camerata facilitated 11,500 people to write their own music, including young people in schools and people living with dementia, ASC and those who are socially isolated. In the future, Manchester Camerata will continue to build on national agendas and work alongside research institutions to be at the forefront of delivering arts practices within health and social care and within the education system.

The advice from the team at Manchester Camerata for anyone tackling something new is…

  • Respond to the ideas and wishes of the people you are working with; its much more likely then to have a positive outcome if you put them first and don’t assume that they ‘need’ your services.
  • Have courage and conviction in piloting new ideas.
  • Building relationships is absolutely key.
  • Constantly assess and adapt your programmes to ensure that they continue to benefit all stakeholders
  • Audience development is an organisation-wide endeavour

Thanks to Lucy Geddes and Paul Davies at Manchester Camarata for sharing their experience.

Read more about Manchester Camerata and other successful innovators in the new Innovation Leadership Launchpad – a mix of case stories and practical tips to help you innovate. Order your free copy straight into your inbox today. 

Innovating in a large organisation

We caught up with Han Gerrits who has 15 years of experience working with large multi-million pound organisations to help them build their capabilities, departments and systems for successful innovation.

Time and time again Han has seen the same problems stopping successful innovation in large organisations. He shared, in his experience the biggest barriers to innovation.

Rules and regulations that don’t allow for experimentation

Han is currently a partner at an international audit firm and audit in particular is heavily regulated and has a strict set of operating rules making it hard to innovate. Han believes that in a big organisation, successful innovation requires a different set of rules from business as usual.

For example, in the context of innovation, failure is a positive learning experience. There is an understanding and an acceptance that success is not guaranteed. A new innovation needs time for experimentation and learning.

Thomas Edison failed over 9,000 times before he made the light bulb that worked. This experiment and learn approach, critical for innovation, is not part of the rules and is not tolerated in normal business operations.

Short timescales and lack of focus

The next common stumbling block for innovation in large organisations is a cycle of investing budget for a new idea or innovation programme, the test and learn approach isn’t given enough time to succeed and the project or programme is stopped because it ’didn’t work’. Then months later the innovation programme is revisited and the start stop cycle repeats itself, never given long enough to learn.

According to Han, it’s not just the timescale that lets the innovation down, its lack of focus. Companies that are good at innovation have a strategic focus in a limited amount of areas. This means that every failed experiment has valuable and highly relevant learning which leads onto the next experiment and ultimately innovation success.

The need to protect the core business

“Most big organisations are risk averse. They are anxious about doing anything that might disturb their core business that brings in the money.”

Google says “chaos is good” and that “freedom from constraints delivers new ideas”. But even that only applies in certain parts of Google’s business. Their data centres don’t allow any chaos or experimentation, because their business relies on their servers being 100% reliable 100% of the time.

So whilst Han hears organisations talking about innovation and disruption, when it comes to the potential disruption of core business systems, large organisations are rarely keen to support innovation.

For example Han shared an experience with a checklist for new ideas. There were two fundamental questions to decide if an idea was worth perusing. “Have we done this before?” and “Do we know this client?” If the answer to either question is no then the idea gets turned down straight away. This meant that the focus was only ever on existing products to existing clients. As soon as something didn’t follow those rules it was stopped, making the opportunity to try something genuinely new non-existent in practice.

Is innovation a good career move?

Often in large organisations people are consciously navigating a career path. They are looking for their next job within the company. If as an individual, you fear that a ‘failed’ project could signal the end of a career you’ll never be able to innovate and the innovation department isn’t an attractive career move.

Han suggests that this is compounded by newly appointed innovation managers often over promising results with inadequate resource. There is a high churn rate a lot of innovation managers leave within three years then move onto a new innovation role and start again which has an impact on organisational innovation and learning.

Han’s innovation tips for innovating in a big company…

  • Focus innovation themes around the strategic plans of the business
  • Consider how external forces will have an impact on your core business and force innovation e.g. how might 3D printing or the internet of things affect the business you are in?
  • If you don’t have budget, time and motivation to innovate – then don’t
  • If the top management doesn’t want to do innovation then don’t do it – it’s a waste of energy
  • Engage with all employees to make improvements in current practice – this creates a culture where everyone is an innovator
  • You need bravery and energy – innovation is about doing not thinking
  • Innovation touches a lot of different functions. You need to build the right connections over different teams. If you are not well-connected – work with someone who is
  • Get some success fast
  • Communication is very important – you have to tell people many times before they come on board.

Read more about other successful innovators in the new Innovation Leadership Launchpad – a mix of case stories and practical tips to help you innovate. Order your free copy straight into your inbox today. 

Sheer gritty bloody mindedness and belief

Sometimes a chance encounter can open up new opportunities. It certainly did for Emily Halderthay when she met Phil Reardon, Global CEO and Founder of Schoolzine in 2015. Phil setup Schoolzine in Australia 10 years ago in response to a school principal’s frustrations around communicating with parents, and was looking for an opportunity to grow the business by launching it in the UK. Emily was living in Australia and looking for a business opportunity to take back to the UK with her family. Boom! Serendipity in action.

Schoolzine has a suite of products designed to better connect schools with parents and put an end to screwed up paper newsletters in school bags, the frustration of never reaching the same group of parents and a heap of unnecessary, costly admin in the school office. Schoolzine includes a digital newsletter, website and app which shares information, reminders, calendars, video and photos in an interactive and dynamic way so that parents no longer have to rely on their children bringing letters home in their bags, which is hit and miss at best, is cheaper than relying on text messages and less time-consuming than the class Whatsapp or Facebook group and of course the ongoing mystery of who took home little Johnny’s PE kit by mistake

Part funded by a grant from the Australian Government Emily set up Schoolzine in the UK in August 2016.

However, the UK team learned quickly that establishing Schoolzine UK is not as simple as just replicating the approach that is working in Australia in the UK market.

One obvious difference between UK and Australia is geography. There are more than 30,000 schools in the UK. Australia is 31 times the size of the UK with just 9000 schools. On paper this makes the UK a great opportunity, a much bigger market over a much smaller geography. At first the team thought it might be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, but they were wrong for several reasons.

Firstly many UK schools are becoming Academies, funded directly by the Department of Education. There are also several multi-academy trusts which in theory facilitates greater independence and scope to innovate, but in reality many are tied in knots of red tape and systems of governance that results in slow and complex decision making.

“We’ve tried working through academy trusts, but the added complexity means that it’s often better for us to approach one school at a time”

The team have also learned that, “Selling to schools in the UK is really hard. Whilst Australian schools are not rich, it seems that many UK schools simply don’t have the same level of funds available to them.”

In addition to budget constraints, school stakeholders are so very time poor. Whilst they always love what we offer, the challenge to get them to account set up stage can often be immense!

Schoolzine’s solution is to break their package down into smaller parts, and reassure schools how straightforward and swift the onboarding process is. In Australia schools want the newsletter as priority – in the UK it’s the App, partly because school technology seems more advanced in the UK and they want it to integrate with current systems, and partly because the cost is less.

Thinking differently – a mind set shift

“A big learning curve is about understanding who makes the decision, and working out how and if we can speak directly with them”

 Also it’s important the schools using the platform use it well, so Emily and the team have a job to do to help encourage teachers and parents understand how their products could help them. “parents will download the app when they know the information contained there is relevant and useful for them”

The schools that are having success with Schoolzine are also led by Head Teachers who think differently; who can see a problem and then do something about it and are prepared to test out something new to make an improvement rather than tolerating the status quo.

Often, part of the challenge for Schoolzine is to change mind sets from ‘not broken no need to fix it” to ‘how can we make life better for our parents, staff and children’

Focus on growth

The focus for Emily and the team moving forward is to continue to grow their UK customer base.

Social media has proved a powerful marketing tool for Schoolzine combined with conference speaking and a bulletproof methodological approach to following up every lead. They are also looking at how they can both rationalise and increase their new business development. They are exploring new routes to market which help to keep costs down, whilst also providing schools with the most useful and relevant information about how Schoolzine will help them improve engagement.

“It’s mostly sheer gritty bloody mindedness right now and the belief in our amazing service to schools”

Emily’s innovation tips are…

  • Be bold – lose your inhibitions and be resilient
  • If something doesn’t work – think differently about how you approach it. Don’t be scared to do something another way
  • Take feedback from your markets and from your customers and use it to improve your approach, messaging and results.
  • Tailor your messages for the needs of different audiences
  • Take any and every opportunity you can to market your product
  • Keep open minded as well as an element of realism (open minded is very different from mindless optimism!)
  • Things change and you have to change too. As your organisation grows roles and responsibilities will evolve – keep on top of the changes necessary
  • Face your fears and face tough decisions
  • Grit your teeth and do the stuff that’s not enjoyable
  • Take time to sit back and take stock and look at how far you’ve come
  • Relinquish control and hand over what you can to other people so you can focus on where you can add most value
  • With decisions remember it’s not Armageddon – really think about what’s the worst that can happen? It’s unlikely to be as bad as you think.

Emily Halderthay is CEO of Schoolzine UK.

If you’d like to learn more insights from other successful innovators check out the new Innovation Leadership Launchpad – a mix of case stories and practical tips to help you innovate. Order your free copy straight into your inbox today.