Your Next Big Idea Better Be Verb-able
May 29, 2014 Editor 0
Who doesn’t Google or Bing? People unhesitatingly Skype, tweet and Instagram worldwide. Occasionally, they Kindle essential reading to friends and colleagues. Folks of a certain age even remember Xeroxing.
There’s lots to be said for naming an innovation. Clearly communicating customer value and benefits matters enormously; what matters more is the ability to design and implement innovation as a verb. Features and functionality have largely become legacy vocabulary for innovation. They’re necessary but not sufficient. Products and services are nouns — but what they empower, enable, and enact are verbs; you want your innovation to be one.
This imperative is less about trademark than linking language to thought leadership. Being innovative can be wonderful; defining the frameworks and metadata that effectively shape how those innovations are perceived is even better. Innovation-as-a-verb means that your offer describes both the desired experience and outcome for its beneficiaries. The innovation isn’t the “thing;” it’s the actions. Netflix’s streaming; Walmart’s “savings catcher,” for example. Simply put, your innovation needs to do more than merely add measurable value, it needs to measurably change behavior. It needs to be a verb.
Under the leadership of Bob Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove, Intel crafted the silicon lexicon of Moore’s Law, microprocessors, and megahertz that made digital innovation exponential. Steve Jobs, of course, learned to become a master not just of branding and promotion but of the “design language” that animated user experience in music, movies, mobile computing and telephony. Jeff Bezos has made Amazon as much an innovation verb as an innovative company. Kurt Semm’s medical and instrumental innovations literally wrote the medical manual on minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgery.
In other words, they came up with “the other words” that transformed the innovation vocabulary. Note: this is fundamentally different than branding. It’s about innovators seeking to conceptually “own” what a novel behavior—or set of behaviors—means. If your innovators aren’t prototyping and testing verbs, they’re building customer artifacts, not experiences. That’s not good.
At one global industrial engineering firm, an apps team was charged with coming up with innovative apps that its customers could use to get more value out of their products. The initiative was as much self-serving and self-promotional opportunism as value-added insight. The innovation conversation changed when the design focus shifted to what behavior—what verbs— the company wanted to own in the hearts, mind and operational vocabularies of its users. The team almost immediately settled on a special protocol of diagnostics and tests that went beyond their product line—but that the company’s offerings were inextricably connected to. There were already a couple of instruments and apps addressing slices of those systems issues but nothing with the integrated perspective the company’s top-tier engineering talent possessed. The design goal, in fact, became making the company’s mobile testing platform protocol a standard behavior — a verb — at customer sites.
At first and superficial glance, this looks suspiciously like solving a customer problem. The deeper truth is that the team “verb-ified” an innovation alignment between what the company could uniquely do with behaviors they thought their customers needed.
A good example of an innovation-as-verb opportunity missed is Ford’s clever “hands-free, kick under” technology that opens the SUV’s rear liftgate for easy stowage. It’s a novel interface with potential to reframe expectations around how families and professionals interact with their vehicles. But what is Ford’s “Skype” or “tweet” or language describing the new verb its innovation enables? There isn’t one.
If your innovation isn’t creating a new verb for a customer or client segment that matters to your organization, your UX and/or your brand, you’re commoditizing your value vocabulary. It’s tough to command an innovation premium or be a thought leader if you “own” the same verbs as everybody else. Tell your innovators they need to verbalize their design thinking inside the organization and out.
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