An Innovation Team is a great resource if you have it, comprised of people trained to facilitate and inject best practices and activities to influence your company’s appetite for innovation. But, what if your company doesn’t have an Innovation Team?For many companies, it is the leaders’ responsibility to take on the role of Chief Innovator, whether in formal title or not. If it’s not the company’s actual leader, someone else should step up and take on the role. Maybe even you! Jed Williams, Chief Innovation Officer for the Local Media Association said, “There’s a misconception that design thinking is reserved for product managers and development teams. Not true! Anyone in an organization can – and should – focus on deeply understanding the ‘why’ of their customer (or user). When this occurs, innovation silos are broken and new ideas can emerge from every corner of a company.” Whether you have a full team or you’re acting alone as the company innovator, practice and teach these principles of innovation to help create your company’s strategic plan for the next few years, quickly solve a client need in a matter of minutes or address other challenges your company is facing.
The Empathy Interview:

In the book Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelly, the Empathy Interview is explained in great detail. Simply put, you must empathize with your end user by putting yourself in their shoes. Come up with a few key questions to drive the discussion, ask “why” a lot and most importantly, listen. Teach others on your team how to conduct Empathy Interviews and you’ll find a better understanding of your customers’ needs and objectives.

Analogous Inspiration:

You may be surprised to know how many businesses outside of your industry wrestle with similar issues and constraints, and in some cases have been able to develop successful, innovative solutions. Competitors may not be open to sharing their solutions, but if you go outside of your comfort zone to interview people in non-competing industries, you will gather insights you can apply to your company and possibly even propel you beyond the competition.

Take Action:

Whether you are able to coordinate a team to help you conduct Empathy Interviews or you have to find inspiration from outside of your industry on your own, you can collect a lot of valuable data. Compile it quickly (in a matter of minutes), find common themes and take action. Jeremy Gockel, Head of Innovation for McClatchy and a McClatchy Innovation coach, usesa lot of sticky notes and “time-boxes” to help large teams analyze their data, create headlines and cluster it into themes. Using a time constraint keeps people from getting into the weeds and striving for perfection.

Alone Time:

Now that you have identified some common themes, it’s time to come up with some innovative solutions. People tend to be the most creative when they are relaxed and often times, the best ideas come when least expected. Be prepared to start sketching out your ideas, writing them down or recording them into your phone.


Regroup with your team, share your solutions and begin to build out a prototype. Again, don’t take a lot of time, give your team a reasonable time constraint and push your ideas to culminate quickly. Once you have outlined your innovative solution, circle back with end users for their candid feedback. Repeat the process as needed and get your solution into the customers’ hands as soon as possible with the expectation that it will always be in “beta.” Don’t wait for it to be perfect.

Having recently participated in a “Design Thinking” innovation session with my team, I can confidently say it has inspired me to look beyond the obvious and dig deeper into conversations. As a result, we can find meaningful insights that will not only shape the future of our products and services, but also build long lasting partnerships with our customers.

Need more inspiration for innovation?

John Hoeft
General Manager A digital marketing services platform with proprietary tracking technology and dashboard solutions.