If you want to stay relevant in our dynamic world, you have to learn and adapt all the time. In his previous blog, our innovation manager Sam explained why the future doesn’t play by the rules. Here, Sam outlines how a systematic approach to innovation can help you stay on top of your game.
Any technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next ten years is already at least ten years old. That’s what computer scientist Butler Lampson says. This means that very little about the near future is magical. All it takes is picking up the signal from the noise. But with so much happening in digital, it’s hard to filter out the right signals.
History is littered with examples of signals that turned out to be noise. Just have a look at TechCrunch’s Deadpool to see all the companies that didn’t survive. The sudden death of so many once-brilliant ideas shows why you shouldn’t waste your time on chasing noise.
To filter out the signal from the noise, I’ve developed a four-step approach to innovation:
- Intercept the signal
- Understand the innovation
- Apply the technology
- Internalize the experience
This method tells you which new technologies will make a difference, and which ones are just hot air. In this article, I’ll guide you through the four steps.
Step 1: Intercept the signal
Everything starts with intercepting the right signal. There are plenty of places to scout the next big thing: within your company, your peer community and, of course, on the internet. During this first stage, it’s best to focus on the human side of things. Spending hours on end surfing the web doesn’t help when you’re still trying to see if an idea is worth putting time into.
Start close to you. Most companies have at least a few people who are future-oriented. These co-workers already understand your business. They can point out developments they find interesting. Because you have a shared frame of reference, talking to colleagues is a good way to figure out what innovations could work in the context of your company.
I find it refreshing to get outsider views, too. When I first started looking into chatbots, I talked with a broad range of people. They told me how they applied chatbots in games, art, and commerce. Their expertise helped me understand the utility of chatbot technology.
Lastly, you can pick up signals by reading and visiting events. These days, there’s plenty of quality content online, as long as you know what to look for. Cross-reference the articles you read with the experiences of people you talk to. This triangulation will give you a better chance at filtering signals from the noise.
Only once you get a grasp of what a new technology can do, will you start to see how it can fit in with the things you already do.
Step 2: Understand the innovation
Great: you’ve talked to quite a few people now. The things you read online are promising, and you believe there is an opportunity. Now, it’s time to see if you can understand this new development a little better by diving deeper into the subject.
This is the moment to start spending more time online. You try to learn everything you can about the domain. You want to be able to inform both developers and sales people about this new technology. You need to be able to answer their most basic queries and give them all they need for a kick-start. Typical questions to answer in this step are:
- What is the current status of this innovation?
- What are the current ‘unknowns’ for this innovation?
- How are others applying this innovation?
- What problems can this innovation solve?
After digging into these questions, you’ll be able to tell whether this is an interesting domain to focus on. At most agencies, client work limits the available time for innovation projects. That’s why you need to be sure it makes sense to ‘own’ a domain before you gather a team and get your hands dirty.
Step 3: Apply the technology
By now, you’ll feel like you’re on to something. To see if your assumptions will hold, the best thing to do is to start building things. This is how you’ll gain a grasp of how you can apply an innovation in your work.
Start simple. Your goal is to get something working as quickly as possible. Fundamentals like a tutorial or a ‘Hello World’ work wonders for this. Once you’ve covered the basics, focus on small experiments. These should be closer to the projects you'd eventually like to do for your clients. They could be a proof of concept or a joint exercise with a client.
Creating prototypes will kick-start your learning curve. Don’t worry if things go wrong. It’s best to encounter pitfalls as soon as possible. After all, you are still getting up to speed and learning how you can best apply the new technology.
Step 4: Internalize the experience
By now, you'll feel pretty confident. You’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking (and talking) about a new domain. Thanks to your experiments, some people in your office now have experience with the new technology. They climbed a learning curve and returned with valuable information.
In the final phase, you’ll internalize the knowledge you’ve gained. Learning from experience will allow you to optimize your efforts around the new domain. With each iteration to your prototypes, it becomes easier to see how your company could best apply this new technology. In fact, you might even learn it’s better to ditch this new technology altogether.
Now that this innovation has found its way into your day-to-day work, you will continue to find new and exciting applications of what you have learned. While this technology might still be a mystery for others, you will easily cut through the hype and get to work.
What’s your way of growing new skills?
In this post, I explained how we take a systematic approach to exploring new domains. Now that I’ve shared how we tackle the future at aFrogleap, I wonder if you'd like to share what you see happening in the mid-long term. Feel free to send me a message on LinkedIn. I’m always open to meet up with new people.
Want to learn more about the future?