Greg is an engineer, native of Singapore. He has been working abroad for the last 15 years which gave him an international perspective and open mindset.
Greg has been part of the corporate incubator team within his well-known tech company. During the last 5 years, he has been providing his technical expertise to support more than 10 innovation projects.
Greg is a true innovator, known within his team as “the techo”. During our talk, he shared openly his experiences and learnings of how he evolved from a pure technical innovator towards seeing technology as a means to answer customer needs.
The Best Ideas Are The Ones That Answer A Real Customer Problem
When Greg started this journey, it was a real challenge to understand the difference between a technical success vs a commercial success. Before joining the incubator’s team he was managing several research projects where success was based on exploring new technologies. His work was to be at the edge of technology. On the top, he used to be an early adopter of new gadgets so he believed that technology comes first and people will be used.
I remember my first project “Iris”, I spent a lot of time with the team working on the technical specifications and being sure we can fill one or several patents. Then, we faced the real world. None wanted our offer”
As Greg and his team were well recognized internally for their technical expertise. He described how they convinced themselves that the market wasn’t ready and their offer was ahead of time.
Iris was a failure. This was very frustrating for me and the team. We didn’t understand why we failed.”
But the truth is that there was no market for that product, no customer problem to solve. At that time, Greg organized some few meetings with marketing. He described with a smile that they just wanted to be politically correct and said, “yes we discussed with marketing”.
You can do all innovation that you want in a technical problem that you are trying to solve, but for taking that solution to a commercially viable product, you need to start with a clear view of which problem are you trying to solve, then you should define the how.”
While it is the truth that customers will not provide us the answer. As an intrapreneur, you need to connect with the customers beforehand, understand what is important for them and be sure you are solving a real problem. Greg describes this as how he understood that the best ideas are the one that answers a customer problem. Because what matters is helping customers accomplish their tasks, and provide value to them and our business.
Innovation Doesn’t Need To Be Complicated
Greg explained that as his team was focusing on technical disruption, sometimes they liked to make things very complicated. But in his new role, he learned that minimum technical disruption worked as well as far as you apply point one “solving real customer problems”
I was really mad when my boss asked me to work on this project tagged “Simplicity” to create a new interactive manual for a solution. I was disappointed on what was the point of having a top-notch technical expert like me, (Greg smiled) working on a manual.
But after a while, I understood that my boss wanted me to learn how to drive simple innovation. ‘Simplicity’ was a success in only one year after of launch, it increased sales of the solution by 8%.”
Greg summarized by explaining that Innovation can be done with less disruptive technologies. Today his company has different innovation programs and several success stories where technology disruption is not required.
Let’s remember, Benjamin Franklin in 1752, who proved that lightning and tiny electric sparks were the same things as conducting a simple experiment with a kite, a key, and a storm. If Benjamin Franklin had to deal with all the technology limitations ahead of him, we would have had no innovation.
Greg also mentioned that this can have a reverse effect named ‘trap of technology focus’. Sometimes we limit innovation because we focus on what technology can’t do. Today, he is working with different intrapreneurs teams to focus on finding improvement and transforming a solution without prior limitation.
Now we think about the result and then analyze how you can get there. For doing this being ahead of time has its advantages”.
Prototyping Helps To Test And Validate Ideas Quickly
Innovation requires experimentation and iteration, and a desire to learn while failing quickly. Greg acknowledges that part of “Iris” failure was that they never did a prototype.
I remember we were fully convinced of our idea that we jumped directed from PowerPoint to development. No test, no customer feedback. That was a mess. Prototyping is an excellent tool to avoid many traps.”
Greg and his teams now produce some rough and inexpensive prototypes of any idea or solution. Prototypes allow them to take an idea to users to get detailed feedback and continue to improve the products and services. For some more advanced projects, they use to invest in proof of concept to get feedback directly from customers during tradeshows or big company events.
Today, we pitch all our ideas with a prototype and evidence of customer feedback. We fail many times but this enables us to fail quickly and learn.”
Prototypes are key to engage in conversations with users and test whether an idea will work and help to test ideas early in the process.
Innovation emerges from a full understanding of the customer or user challenges. If you focused on the problems and spending time to understand, to empathize with the user much of your work will succeed and connect across and beyond your company to gain traction for a proposed solution.
When organizations understand how the innovation process works, they can see what is missing in their approach to leading innovation. However, innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated. It might just lead to a simple solution that can be easily applied for the benefit of our intended users. Prototyping is a powerful medium to allow us to test and iterate at a faster and more efficient rate. They are key to test our ideas early in the process and better understand which direction to take.
Greg loves to be known as being always ahead of time “the techo”. He helps innovation teams to leverage on technology to find the best solutions for customer problems and just created a team that is working on what will happen in 15 or 20 years’ time.
Share Your Thought And Experiences!
As requested by Greg, all names and identifying details have been changed
Thank You, Greg!