What’s the Innovation ask?

ASKI recently attended a pre-launch event of a new business. I’ve known the founders for years and they are all really brilliant people. They sold their first company, and after a break they are launching again…but this time they were going to be innovative and disruptive. Two of my favourite words!

They did a great job, I’m not criticising and hey, who am I to criticise anyway- they’ve been there done it, got the bank balance to prove it! BUT…I was underwhelmed because I couldn’t pin down where the disruption was.

The fundamental problem that I struggled with whilst journeying home was a fundamental question for everyone doing disruptive innovation which is, “if you are going to disrupt something, what are you asking your future Users to do / be”?

The concept of an innovation ask is one that was introduced in the book by Michael Schrage, “Who to you want your customers to become” which you can read a review of by clicking here. Let me explain what I mean by the Innovation Ask with some examples of great innovators;

-The Uber ‘ask’ goes way beyond simply a more convenient way to book a taxi. The reason they have grown so quickly is that the ‘ask’ is that we join a movement and disrupt an industry, that we show two fingers to the taxi firms that have been delivering a terrible service all these years

– The Starbucks ‘ask’ isn’t just that we buy their overpriced coffee rather than a competitor’s, it’s that we become ‘coffee connoisseurs’. Everything about their business is as much about the experience as much as it is about coffee

– The Airbnb ‘ask’ isn’t that we use their site rather than the hundreds of alternatives. They’ve grown so quickly because their ‘innovation ask’ is that we choose something different, something cool and adventurous, and again show two fingers to the corporate hotel industry and make a more sustainable, sociable choice and book a bed in someone’s home

– The Nest (the smart thermostat acquired by Google in 2014 for $3.2b) ‘ask’ goes beyond the idea that we can adjust our heating without standing up and walking over to the thermostat on the wall, the ‘ask’ is that we buy into the concept of the connected home, that we want our homes to reflect our immediate needs and mood, all controlled by our smartphones

– The Telsa ‘ask’ isn’t just that we buy an electric vehicle, it’s that we make a bold statement about our attitude to the environment and sustainable travel by paying a premium for a beautiful luxury car

I could go on and on (please contact me if you want more information or a consultation on what your innovation ask is).

Let me get back to the company in question. They built a multi-million $ business once and sold it. Their new business is designed on a simple insight – take the 20% of their old product that everyone loved and make the user experience (UX) as good as it can be and get people to switch to or adopt their new tool. The disruptive bit is that the core capability is free and they will sell premium tools later down the track. It’s a classic disruption play (take a look at this article to see a brilliant example of how disruption works) and they showed a slide full of ‘Unicorns’ (billion dollar startups) for whom that model worked.

Again, who am I to criticise, and I’m really not, but I did feel as though they are missing an opportunity to really disrupt and there is a great example of what I mean in Canva.com. If you don’t know of Canva, it’s an online design platform. As a piece of software they are disrupting the likes of Photoshop or Illustrator…but they aren’t really because their ‘ask’ isn’t directed to graphic designers to use Canva rather than the tools their currently use. Their ‘ask’ is to non-designers (the other 99% of us) to join a community and use their platform to create great design without any particular design skill.

Teamwork PM is another great example. It’s an online project management platform built it for non project managers.

You will have noticed by now that I’m being careful not to name the company because I have far too much respect for them and hey, they may be one step ahead of me and I just misunderstood, but it seems as though they are building the equivalent of the free alternative to photoshop for designers when they could do a Canva and solve a design problem for non-designers.

They absolutely solve a problem that we all have, we just don’t solve it the same way because, just like design, it assumes an understanding of a syntax and language which is impenetrable to everyone else.

The final insight therefore is; be really clear what the problem you are solving is and for whom and then figure out what your innovation ‘ask’ is. What are you asking your future Users to do / be?