There is an increasingly mutually dependent relationship between insight and innovation: It is the impact of many innovations on consumers, markets and society that has become such a major focus for much current insight activity, and it is the new insight available to us that is now driving so much of today’s innovation activities.

Whereas consumer and market insights used to have their primary roles in informing the decisions around new product launch and positioning, they are both now often also a key input to innovation strategy development and idea generation: They have moved from the back end to the front end of innovation. Similarly in an increasingly simultaneously homogenised and fragmenting global society, the trends that previously helped determine such issues as first launch market selection are now themselves becoming a focus for stimulating more cross border innovation.

While technology insight has previously been used largely in a foresight capacity to inform future technology strategies and product development roadmaps within sectors, as convergence of different platforms and cross-sector transfer of new capability has become more prevalent, insight of the impact of new technologies outside a firm’s home space has become an important ingredient to innovation strategy development. In addition how these external developments may impact the future organisation – its focus, structure and even culture – have all become significant inputs to planning for future innovation delivery.

An increasing number of organisations wishing to make best use of their innovation capability are seeking to integrate access to five core areas of potential change into their innovation programmes. These comprise:

Market insight: Making sense of the marketplace and clarifying the emerging opportunities
Consumer insight: Getting under the skin of the consumer to reveal the key influences on decisions
Society insight: Providing in-depth understanding of how the world we live in is changing
Technology insight: Highlighting the sources of the emerging technologies that will change our lives
Organisation insight: Understanding how, why and where leading innovators deliver their innovation potential

When the most relevant elements from across all five of these are brought together to provide a coherent view of potential new opportunities, barriers and enablers, they help set an excellent framework within which innovation can occur. Faced with continued acceleration of the developing world, reformation of current perspectives and faster global impact of emerging technologies, many leading companies now see ongoing insight activity as a prerequisite for successful innovation delivery.

Therefore, the real challenge that is being faced is in gaining accurate cross-sector, cross-market and cross-technology views and translating these into a clear understanding of the true scope for innovation. In order to achieve this, different companies are taking different approaches to the access and use of insight. These are largely dictated by their sector focus and hence the associated timescales for change.

Many FMCG, financial services and media organisations focused on a 2 to 5 year horizon for major innovations are bringing together a wealth of inputs from adjacent categories to identify linkages, commonalities, conflicts and potential spaces of future opportunity. With a particular focus on how and where they can move or extend their key brands, this requires specific in-depth understanding of how consumer and customer behaviours and attitudes are adapting to the changes in society and technology, and how these will create or destroy potential markets.

By contrast, a number of technology firms and major industrial companies with longer product lifecycles are keen to gain a view of how the world around them is changing, the options that exist for the future and how they may therefore need to adapt. Less focused on immediate consumer attitudes and more on what future society will accept, primary areas of interest here are the key changes that can potentially occur as an outcome of new technological developments as well as shifts in the structure and needs of wider societies. This helps determine where to place their longer term bets for the future, how to balance different innovation opportunities and risks and how to potentially reconfigure their organisational focus and structure.

Between these two, there are a host of areas where an intelligent mix of both are required. In such fields as consumer electronics, food and drink, travel and communications an even broader range of insights are being seen as essential to drive innovation. For many leading companies, insight and innovation, once two distant cousins, have now become essentially intertwined as essential partners in delivering a stream of successful new products and services.

To discuss this further
From the Innovation Update – Innovaro