Finding the Next Big Thing: How to Jumpstart the Innovation Process

Companies Need to Focus on Market Needs First, Not Technology

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Lowe's robot, OSHbot
Lowe's robot, OSHbot

Silicon Valley -- home of big dreams, grand innovations and countless awkward networking events.

The general innovation process in Silicon Valley goes something like this: A bunch of smart people are working in a bunch of startups to develop the Next Big Thing that they hope will be an innovation worthy of acquisition, purchase, or at least some modicum of usefulness.

Venture capitalists are on the scene, looking to invest in the Next Big Thing and connect their corporate clients with startups. Finally, corporate innovators are wandering around hoping to meet someone interesting, knowing there is that Next Big Thing that can change the future of their business -- if only they can figure out what it is.

With so many startups and technologies to wade through, it can be difficult for companies to distinguish innovations that are right for their business from those that are just hot right now. And it's not just enough to know how to structure a deal. Without a base understanding of how a technology functions and the different players competing in the space, companies risk investing too soon and too heavily in an arbitrary fashion at a high cost of capital, time and attention.

The problem is that entrepreneurs often have little to no understanding of the problems facing the companies they seek as partners, and large businesses lack experience building and introducing new technology. The result? Too many people are developing the same solutions to the same problems that may not address a market need, and companies are expending resources on projects they can only hope will affect change for their business. Case in point: endless iterations of social media analytics tools.

By reversing this mindset to focus on market needs first and technology second, we can bridge the "chasm of how" puzzling entrepreneurs and corporate innovators in Silicon Valley and around the world. When uncommon partners work alongside each other to co-create new solutions with an end goal in mind, the back-and-forth engagement will push the partnership and the technology further and faster in ways neither one could have anticipated at the outset.

At Lowe's, we're leveraging science-fiction prototyping, a process in which we provide market research and trend data to science-fiction writers, who then help us envision possible futures to common consumer problems, in comic book form.

Yet it's one thing to have a story, and another to bring that vision to life, so from that narrative we work backwards to find uncommon partners, such as Singularity University. Together we build things with an end in mind, rather than looking for cool stuff first and a place to cram it into the company second.

One problem we know home improvement customers face is the challenge of imagining a completed project and articulating that vision to others. Through science-fiction prototyping, we created a solution that helps immerse customers in the room of their dreams before they spend a dime. Armed with this vision, we set out to find the technology partners to help us build it. This resulted in the Lowe's Holoroom, an augmented-reality home-improvement simulator introduced in two Toronto Lowe's stores this November.

From startups to the Fortune 100, companies are realizing that there is a better way to innovate -- but they have not come to a consensus on the solution. By being more fully involved in the innovation process and coming to the table armed with actionable insights and business challenges, the entire ecosystem of innovation can work better, smarter and faster to introduce innovations that matter.

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