Frontline Innovation Initiatives

Great organizations like John Deere will go out into the field and spend months living with their customers. They observe the impact of fuel costs and the efficiency of being able to plant, manage, and harvest crops. They will look at every single ergonomic issue. Literally, everything that affects that customer is observed, not through some focus group member with a clipboard, but by living with the customer and plowing the fields together and observing – first hand – how to add meaningful net customer value through their observations.

Now in a more controlled way, we have had clients do “one-day” Innovation Safaris. Really, they work quite well. We had the privilege of working with a great medical company, but we were discouraged to find their engineering department had spent virtually no time in the operating room. So we set up three different Innovation Safaris in two hospitals and one ambulatory surgical center. Immediately after the Innovation Safari, we facilitated an ideation session. That ideation session resulted in a multi-million dollar technology that wouldn’t have been on the R&D radar screen had we not spent the time in the field discovering where the problems, needs and opportunities were within their market space.

Every company in every business in every space is different, so we begin each Innovation Safari with a meeting prior to the safari to make sure we’ve identified the best range of customers and to make sure of what kinds of systems and measurement tools we need to take into the field with us to gather as much information in as short a period of time as possible.

Innovation Safaris work with mathematical certainty. They’re inexpensive to do, and they score points with customers who typically like to be listened to and brought into the development process. Yet, most companies haven’t made them part of a regular business practice, especially for the people who have the greatest decision making authority. I believe every organization should use the Innovation Safari throughout the enterprise, even to discover the needs of internal customers.

We have also used Innovation Safaris in customer service to help companies learn opportunities to provide exceptional value in service.