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2 New Techniques to Drive Innovation

In an increasingly sophisticated business environment, successful innovation demands increasingly more sophisticated tools and methodologies. A lot of small businesses struggle to keep up. They know they need to make a game-changing move — but they don't know how to make it.

If this challenge applies to your business, explore these two cutting-edge innovation methods — then discover how to incorporate them into your ideation processes right now.

1. Co-Creation 
Co-creation expands on the basic tenets of market research by turning your own clients into involved partners.

Let's say you're finalizing the development of a new product or service. Instead of trying to go to market with a 100-percent perfect product, invite a group of highly valued clients to give you feedback prior to launch. After integrating their insights, go back to them with a prototype that delivers more-precise solutions to their needs. Because you incorporated your customers' feedback, you'll confidently go to market knowing you’ve produced the product or service your customers want.

One of the tricks of co-creation is being fully resourced and prepared to incorporate feedback very quickly. Once customers see your prototype — and once they give you feedback — you need to show them the next version so they can react. The more frequently you iterate with them, the more you build their trust to generate more valuable insights.

When you allow customers behind the scenes as co-creators working toward a product or service that fills their needs, they become invested in your success.

2. Design Thinking 
This approach to creative problem solving harnesses methods honed by sophisticated designers. You can apply design-thinking methodology to:

  • Define a complex problem.
  • Acquire information about a problem.
  • Analyze knowledge you currently have, or will gain, through research.
  • Hypothesize solutions.

At the heart of the design-thinking process is generating and considering a variety of solutions simultaneously — the solution comes first, not the problem! As you approach your solution (or solution set) from a number of angles, as a designer would, no idea is a "wrong" idea until you zero in on a final direction.

Design thinking balances user needs with what technology enables, and what's profitable for you and your customers. That three-part balance is like a three-legged stool: One misaligned leg means the stool will fail and you may not succeed. The design-thinking process ensures that you problem-solve holistically.

So how can you apply design thinking to your business if you've never worked with it? Local universities and small colleges routinely offer design-thinking courses. And many small-business association groups sponsor community events that focus on utilizing design-thinking tools.

Both co-creation and design-thinking techniques can help you achieve long-term competitive advantages using a highly collaborative approach. Weave them into your company's quest for innovation and improve your return on investment in breakthrough products.

Michelle Proctor led the development of marketing strategy in multiple areas, including Catalog, Market Segmentation, Automated Solutions, and fedex.com before becoming director of Innovation at FedEx.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.

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