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5 Powerful Learnings to Shape Innovation in Business

Filed Under: Business | Innovation | Podcast | Strategy
Date Published: February 4, 2020
By: Claire

Welcome to the first episode of the Innovation in Business podcast, with your host Claire Whittaker. In this episode, Claire will share five personal stories which learnings helped her shape the way she thinks about business and product innovation. Five simple learnings that will help you in your way of building and growing your business.

Listen to find out:

  • How important is to know your numbers.
  • How to best serve your customers and meet them where they are.
  • The best ways to use the data.
  • How is the process and how to better understand it
  • How to be prepared to deal with unexpected changes.


Story 4: Toyota and Lean

Transcript of this episode:

What stories have shaped your career to date? Can you pinpoint the lessons that you’ve been the most impactful? For this the first innovation in business podcast, I’m looking back over the five stories that have really shaped the way I think about business, and product innovation. 

This is the first episode of the innovation in business podcast. I’m really excited to have you here today to talk about my journey, and how I got to where I am and what I want to share with you from this.

Here, you can learn the top lessons that have shaped my consulting practices and will help you drive innovation and sales for your product. Understanding the numbers, building stable processes, connecting with your customer and dealing with ambiguity. It’s all covered here.

My name is Claire. And over the last nine years I’ve worked in the innovation teams across industries including research, manufacturing, resale and technology. Now I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly when it comes to innovating on behalf of customers. And I, alongside my guests are excited to share these learnings with you to help you avoid mistakes and capitalise on the learnings to grow your business with innovation. Are you ready to learn more? Let’s dive on in. 

So the first story I want to share with you goes way back to when I was a little girl, I think I must have been around eight. And as many of you I’m sure will remember, when you’re younger, you can think of some pretty interesting business ideas. Now I had a few including selling painted rocks, which I stuck googly eyes on at school as pets for my friends, but probably the one where I learned most was selling earrings over Christmas. 

So my parents had a Christmas tree business and every year we would sell Christmas trees to people from the area. I grew up in the countryside. So We were lucky in that we were able to have this kind of business at Christmas. 

And when I was little, I decided that I could use this opportunity to create my own business and a kind of upsell. So I started to sell these wooden painted earrings that I found in my parent’s garage to any of the customers who were buying Christmas cheese. It was really exciting and it was good to be feel like I was making my own money and contributing, and I managed to make 20 pounds. I was so excited. I ran through to tell my dad and my mom how good my business venture had gone. But my dad wasn’t very happy. You see, I’ve been selling the earrings for two pounds each when he’s paid £3.50 for them. So we were losing £1.50 and airing. 

Now, I hadn’t realised that these have been purchased by him at such a high price and I do I didn’t realise that I was now selling them at a loss. So he was kind of understandably annoyed. So this was the first time I really got to grips with understanding your numbers, and how important it is to go into profit and loss. Now, this is an exactly innovation concept, but it is a very important one with business and shows you how I got my start. Now, aside from the fact that I needed to have a better grasp on profit and loss, that was another important lesson I learned and way that I found how I could serve my customers, in this case, the Christmas tree clients better and that was understanding and upsell. So I knew my customers were here because they wanted to buy Christmas trees and the time was right and people were in the market for festive gifts.

And what I realised was that I had an opportunity to sell these additional earrings. That was Designed for Christmas to them. And so I very quickly got to grips with understanding who my customer was, why they were here, and what else I could offer them that would improve their experience. This is something that I think we all should be thinking about when we’re designing products. And when we’re building experiences for customers, what’s your upsell? How can you meet your customers where they are and offer them something at the right time that will help them to have a better experience and a more fulfilled Christmas time. So it’s kind of similar to if you look on internet ecommerce sites like Amazon, you will see that customers who bought one thing also bought this customers who purchased this cushion might like this cushion cover. You could also see other homewares in the recommendations that come to you. So these kind of recommendations systems are offering you the upsell. And that is what I was Stay with my earrings obey our laws. So this is the best thing that I learned about business as a child. 

The next thing I learned was, again, focused on customers and you can be too close to a problem. And when you’re too close to a problem, you don’t necessarily see it the way that your customers do. So this comes from my time working at a large tech company in e commerce. And I’ve been there for a while and I’ve done several projects on branding and sales. I thought I knew everything about shopping online and what our customers were excited by. And I had designed some new product innovations to kind of help them shop in the way that I thought they wanted to. 

Now, I was ready for everything but decided quickly to run a usability study to help me get buy in from the senior leadership that my plans were the right ones and I’m so glad I did. When I conducted this usability study, I saw that customers were shopping in a completely different way. So the way that I had expected, they were not aware of a lot of the tricks that I knew about having worked at the company for so long, and the ways that I could filter things down, we’re not intuitive and not being used by them. Ceiling this, I decided to change the direction of the project that I was doing, and instead focused on making those aspects of the customer experience and those tricks that I was aware of more visible and more suitable for customers to improve their overall journey. It wasn’t the big, exciting new product innovation that I was thinking about. But the innovation that I implemented in terms of improving the existing experience before going on to build something new on top of it was one that was much better suited to my customers and can be implemented for them successfully. The major learning I got from this project is don’t assume you know everything. Ask your customer, make sure that you’re meeting them where they are. do surveys and post them on social media if you don’t have access to major surveys, complete usability studies, walk the store exercises and even focus groups to understand where your customer is and how you can innovate on their behalf to improve the experience for them and how they are shopping. 

okay, on to the next story. When you think about product innovation, do you use your head or your heart? For me, I’ve always been a very intuitive intuition lead person. So making decisions with my heart is really where I most naturally lie.

However, one of the projects that I was working on that taught me the importance of going with my head, as well as my heart, was when we had two products that were competing for resource. My heart was saying that what, one thing very strongly and I argued passionately for it, we had good data to support it. And I was able to build a case around it looking at this data. The other it didn’t seem as intuitive to me and I wasn’t sure that it was going to be the right decision for our business or our product. And I hadn’t seen any data to prove me wrong. So Being my usual self, I decided to do a deep dive looking at the different potential options that we had for the projects. And looking deeper into the data around the other one, which I wasn’t that SAS upon. I decided to compare with other similar features that we had for the categories that we were trying to target, and was actually surprised when I looked at the data, I realised that customers were using it much more than I had originally anticipated, and that there was a clear lack of product in that space that could meet the needs and act for them and the way that they deserved. It was important to do this process because I even though even though going on your intuition can help you make great decisions about your product. If you are close to your customer, you not only know from your perspective, and it’s important to take other perspectives into account, look at the data and the sure that it backs up all of your product decisions before you move forward. When you get into a business, it can be you can, and you’ve been there for a while you can feel like you know everything about that business and how your customers are reacting to it. But when you’re looking at innovating in a space, you need to remember that things move so quickly. And you could be surprised by what is happening under the surface if you take the time to look.

Needless to say, we ended up going with the project where I had seen that the data had changed, and we will now able to provide a great product in that experience. In this case, my head went out over my heart and it was an important lesson for me to understand, to look at the data and to not let my ego get in the way when it comes to product innovation so that I could deliver a better experience for my customers.

The next story that I want to tell you about takes me way back to my first job in research. And one of the first stories I learned about process development and process innovation that really changed the way I did every project, having learned it. This is not a story that I myself went through, but more story I was told. And it’s the story of Toyota and the New York City shelter that are slim for funding. Every year, this shelter New York asks companies for funding to help them support homeless people and disadvantaged people across the city over Christmas providing meals and shelter for them to stay during the cold time. So one year they reached out to Toyota for some funding, and Toyota said no, they weren’t going to give them funding. But what they would give them were a few of that process engineers to help them develop a better system for managing the attendees and offering a great service for their customers. This turned out to be a great gift. When the Toyota engineers came in, they were able to look at the process that the shelter was using, and cut the waiting time from now forgive me if I get these numbers not quite right. But from something like 90 minutes for waiting for a meal down to 18 minutes. This allowed the listener the shelter to say, to serve meals for way more customers and the same time and save them money and help them to offer a better service. It wasn’t an innovation in terms of a new product or a new service that they were offering. Instead, the innovation came from understanding the existing process, cutting out waste and improving it to make it more streamlined and more efficient. This in turn, left customers and left the company With a lot more opportunity to innovate in other ways, or to serve more customers, because they had a better process in place. Now, I love creating processes and scaling things. And it’s something that I’ve gained great joy out of not just in research, but also in my career in the tech company and an e commerce. I think it is important to not always be looking to innovate with something new and to instead, look at how you can improve what you have in existence, and how you can better serve your customers, as well as offering them the best possible experience. If you take a step back and look at the processes you have in your business. How can you innovate within them to help save you time and resources? Where can you make your customers life easier, more time gives you more options. And when you have more options, you can offer a better experience, improve your processes and innovate. On behalf of your customers, process innovation and process development is something I love to do with my clients in artificially intelligent consulting. I really enjoy understanding and getting under the hood of how things work, where you can improve things and then scaling out your learnings to build better processes and better experiences for our customers. 

Okay, so the fifth and final story is one that at the time caused me a lot of heartache. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was one of the most stressful times in my career. It was a very intense period, and I was under an awful lot of pressure. You probably remember the time though, you probably were experiencing something similar yourself if you’re a UK based business owner. In June 2016, I was flying high. I had been managing one of the biggest brands in our category for a couple of years. I really knew what I was doing when it came to managing their business, their supply chain and their marketing. And I was excited to be delivering against the plan that we had defined back in January.

All in all, it was set up to be a great year. Not only that, but I had some great holidays planned. And I was excited to take time off with my, with my family over the next few months. However, if I’m honest, there were a couple of cracks that had appeared in the business that I wasn’t tackling. In fact, none of us were tackling we weren’t massively concerned. And we were probably being a little bit complacent. Then came June 27. When the British Pound tanks following the Brexit referendum result, the impact was that I went from having the highest revenue generating brand a huge part of our How to create a massive win, just suddenly being hugely unprofitable, with an being under pressure to fix it immediately over the next few months.

As I said, these were some of the most stressful in my career as the pressure to turn the situation around weighed heavily on my shoulders. We will have weekly reviews where I will be asked about progress and having to communicate what I was doing to fix the problem of profitability as we were purchasing in euros.

I am happy to report that I succeeded in turning things around working closely with the brand and with the rest of my colleagues. However, it wasn’t without its setbacks, and it taught me a very important lesson about sustainable growth. It’s all very well to keep growing and growing and growing your business. But you never know what’s going to happen. You need to be prepared for when things don’t go as planned or when referendums happen. You can’t control everything that happens in the world. And you probably shouldn’t try to that would be a bit weird. But you can control how you’re growing. You can control how you’re making your business sustainable. You can control how you’re preparing for the future, and building a foundation that you can innovate on and grow in a sustainable way. things don’t always go up as planned, and you should be prepared for when that happens. But if you’re building a sustainable Foundation, building a sustainable business and growing in a way that not only delight your customers but also build on these foundations, then you can drive a product innovation roadmap that will really grow your business in a way that will make you feel proud and happy at the end of the day. So those are five stories that really shaped my career to date and the way that I do business and consulting. 

They to summarise the learnings that I’ve had.

They are:

  • know your numbers
  • meet customers where they are
  • use data to make decisions
  • don’t always just go with your head or your heart, you need both understand the process
  • make sure you build a sustainable company.

And then finally, be prepared because things don’t always go as planned, and you should be ready for them.

So that concludes the end of the first episode of the Business, Innovation and business podcast.

I’m glad and I hope you’ve enjoyed this time. We’ve had together tune in each Tuesday for your top of inspiring innovation stories and techniques.

Next week, we’ll be discussing 2020 trends to watch out for in product innovation. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast on your podcast providers you don’t miss an episode. And if you have time, please leave a review as it helps others find the podcast and it helps me get great guests for you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this the first episode and learning a little bit more about me today, and I can’t wait to catch up with you next week.

Have a great day now. Bye