Three steps to smart innovation

Successful customer journey mapping – Part 3 of 4

By Amanda Salter

In this highly competitive climate every business is striving to create meaningful new opportunities. Innovation has become vital to sustaining growth. But for innovation to work, it needs to be done properly. We call this smart innovation.


1. Steered by customer needs

Lots of innovation is driven by technology. So the technology was invented first and its use in the real world came after. This can lead to some amazing breakthroughs – e.g. virtual reality shopping and drone delivery services – but it’s a gamble.

Huge amounts of money can be wasted trying to find genuinely useful applications that make a human impact, meet real needs and are profitable. Because you’re always working in retrospect, it’s like trying to fit pegs into holes they were not designed for.

As Dave Power points out in his article Customer Needs Should Drive Innovation, if you create a technology that doesn’t fix any current need, no one will want it.

He cites the following example: ‘When Apple launched its ill-fated Newton device, no one understood what problem it was supposed to solve. Later, when Apple launched the iPhone we all understood that this was the way to carry one digital device instead of a separate phone, music player, and organizer.”

It therefore makes sense to flip the process on its head and start with a real customer need. Once you understand customers’ problems, you can find the technological solutions to fix them.

A customer-led approach to innovation

  • Pinpoints the customer need
  • Identifies an existing tech capability
  • Results in a profitable, worthwhile investment

2. Creativity with boundaries

Constraints are not the enemy of creativity – they are the friends of viability. The most successful innovators understand that true creativity means producing workable ideas within certain frameworks. Because there’s no point creating solutions that aren’t operable within your current business model or don’t give you profitable business outcomes.

As McKinsey states in The simple rules for disciplined innovation: ‘Sophisticated innovators have long recognized that constraints spur and guide innovation. Attempting to innovate without boundaries overwhelms people with options and ignores established practices, such as agile programming, that have been shown to enhance innovation.’

You’re looking for a sweet spot where there is enough freedom to bounce around ideas, but within the perimeters of your business goals and requirements. All organisations have factors that are less likely to change than others. Innovating within these boundaries will speed up the process, getting you viable results more quickly.

3. Insight driven, agile and iterative

An effective innovation process is insight driven, fast, agile, iterative and scalable. You need to test the riskiest bits as quickly and cheaply as you can before you invest too much time and effort. Crucially, you must talk to your customers and find out exactly what they need.

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you know what customers need – find out their real requirements by conducting research. Michael Gaida highlights this in his Interaction Design Foundation article Before You Start Designing – It’s Time to Get Out of the Building: ‘It’s only by meeting with and understanding potential customer’s needs that you can develop a product that people want to buy.’ Once you’ve come up with a new concept, the next step is to rigorously test it to make sure it meets the customer need.

We love the principles of Lean Startup:


Stick to these principles and you won’t waste time, money or effort on solutions that aren’t working or needed.

The outcomes

As always, the proof is in the pudding. By following these three steps, you will be able to:

  • Explore new products that really matter to your customers
  • Open up new revenue streams
  • Find gaps in the market
  • Grow and maintain your competitive edge

Get results, fast

Looking for quick, robust and tailored results? Our proven customer-driven innovation process with the unique Customer Experience Framework, collaborative sprints and co-creation workshops makes a big impact in just a few weeks.

Find out how we can grow your company at or call Amanda on 07786 657 504

Read all the articles in this Customer Journey Mapping series

Part 1 – Get internal alignment for your Customer Journey Maps
Part 2 – Take action with your customer-centred strategy
Part 4 – Top tips for tapping into successful opportunities

Recent articles

25. March 2019

Top five things to do after Customer Experience Benchmarking

Keep reaping rewards after you’ve finished benchmarking your Customer Experience
Read More
28. February 2019

Benchmark your way to Customer Experience success in three steps

Spot opportunities for growth and rapidly drive change across your business
Read More
14. February 2019

Top tips for recruiting a design team

Speed up the process, secure internal buy-in and ensure the right hire every time
Read More

Be Inspired

Subscribe to our Newtletter for a monthly round up of news and views on Service Design. Plus get our exclusive white paper on Customer Value Models for Retail.

Got a project in mind?

Get in touch and tell us what you’re thinking.

Drop us a line

020 3515 1030

Visit us

4 Wellesley Terrace
London N1 7NA