In today’s marketplace, the practice of innovation isn’t just about creating new products. It’s about discovering completely new markets that meet previously unknown and therefore untapped customer needs. And in the age of Internet commerce, the act of innovation becomes an even greater challenge, awash in a sea of new ideas. Therefore the drive toward selecting and executing the right ideas and bringing them to market before your competitors takes on an urgency that has been previously unknown, yet is sure to increase in the rapidity of its scale in the years ahead.
As a result, the driving forces behind innovation – previously technology and control of quality and cost – have shifted away from issues of efficiency and are now solely focused on the creativity and growth of the organization toward a future state of competitiveness.

A perfect example can be seen in the process of mobile payment via smartphone. Mobile payment has provided the ultimate in convenience to shoppers by preventing them from having to carry around credit cards and other means of payment. Though it has yet to become the norm for many businesses, mobile payment’s proliferation among startups is evidence of the desire to reach consumers through expediency and ease of use.

Five Steps to an Innovative Solution

Regardless of the size and scope of your organization, customer-centered companies looking to innovate for the modern consumer might consider the following approach:

1. Figure out the problem you’re trying to solve

As with just about any first step, this one is crucial. Make sure you’re trying to solve the right problem and don’t try to provide a fix for something that isn’t a priority in the eyes of your consumer. Do this by asking the right questions and observing, either in focus groups or by evaluating competitive companies, products and their customers. Asking simple questions like ‘what does XYZ company do better than us?’ or ‘what’s missing from our product or service that would make it better?’ can go a long way towards defining your direction at this stage.

2. Analyze the problem

In this stage, you want to turn the problem upside down and inside out, extracting every variable and value that causes it (and remedies it). Focus on how often the problem occurs, how severe it is, potential causes, and what if any special circumstances impact it. Another primary focus should be on the timeframe of the problem. How long has it been occurring? Has it been getting worse with time and, if not, are there factors that could cause it to do so in the future?

3. Classify the decision criteria

Clearly defining the desires that lead to purchase intent, here you want to identify any and every decision that factors into the decision making process. Which of these criteria is most important? Will the decision be based solely on existing standards or are there any unique values that can be used

4. Come up with more than one solution

There is no substitute for variety and the goal at this stage is to not leave a more valuable solution on the table. Therefore, don't stop at the first solution you come up with. Instead, evaluate any alternative scenarios as objectively as possible, assessing the pros and cons of each to ensure that the solution you’re pursuing is the most competitive and thereby profitable one.

5. Pick the best solution

After you’ve evaluated all the options and values gleaned from steps one through four, you have to choose the most customer-centric solution to move forward with, developing a base of support within your organization and preparing for any internal or external contingencies.