My Three Principles for Innovation
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My Three Principles for Innovation

Photo by:   Regina Cabal
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By Regina Cabal - Momlancers
Co-Founder

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In other articles, I have centered my writing on diversity matters, under my Momlancers Co-Founder "hat.” Today, I want to share from my "hat" as an innovation consultant. Collaborating with innovation agencies like Redbox and Business as Unusual, helped me create an innovative mindset that continues to drive and evolve my business.

When talking about innovation, many people think of technology, robots, applications, and artificial intelligence. For me, innovation is about positive change. Such change can be something small, or very gradual, that will ultimately have a social impact and help humanity.

For example, with Momlancers, the change I want to generate is that when women become mothers, they are able to continue to develop professionally, with flexible schedules that allow them to spend time with their families. Our big fight reads: “When women are empowered to lead full and productive lives and raise happy children, they help society prosper.”

To be innovative is not a one-time thing. It is a practice, a philosophy of life. It's like surfing a wave. Context is constantly changing. Society changes, the needs of people change, even a country’s laws may change. You learn, react, learn again, implement.

The first step to live under this mindset is to convert the questions you normally ask yourself into “powerful questions.”

Instead of asking “why?” try “What would happen if…?” or “How could we?”

In the case of Momlancers, instead of wondering: “Why isn't there a more equitable work culture?” I went on to, “What if jobs were more flexible?”

These powerful questions serve you in every aspect of life: Why wasn’t I able to score a goal? versus, How could I improve my shot? Why can't I save for my trip? versus,. What would happen if I eliminated an expense every week?

Several authors and books talk about different processes to innovate: David Kelley, Bruce Mau, Eric Ries, Alex Osterwalder. Today, I want to leave you with three factors that I find vital in all my innovation processes:

  1. Be people-centered. Use your “human eyes.” What problem do I want to solve? Is this really a pain point?

In several projects that I’ve done with major brands, I have received a brief that reads: "We need to innovate, expand our product portfolio, create a new flavor, a new packaging, etc." After asking to the client why, I often get a simplistic answer: to build a marketing plan, to nurture our five-year pipeline. In such cases, I know that project is going to fail. But if the answer is: “I want to generate more value for my customers,” then I know that we are going to do something interesting. Always start from your client’s needs, understanding them as human beings. 

Think about: Who is the  person you want to talk to? What hurts him/her the most? What keeps him/her up at night? Now imagine that you have her/him in front of you. What would you ask to detect those opportunities for innovation?, i. e.  What is a day in your life like? What do you care about? What worries you? What do you like about my product? How else do you solve it? 

One tip Tim Brown shares is to search for extreme users. For example, while designing shoes, he interviewed night dancers who wear heels for several hours. Who could be your extreme user? Someone who has never used the internet? Someone who only drinks one type of beverage?

Remember: Before you think "innovate," think about the person. What problem are you solving? 

When I started Momlancers, I envisioned having a technological platform so that large corporations could access all the available candidates. 

Before doing a big tech dev, I simulated and tested it with some clients. I found out that their biggest pain point is that they don't have time to access one MORE platform, nor the time to filter candidates, so the development should work for me, and that's how we work today. I give them my recommendation on whom to work with.

  1. Change your perspective. The idea is to get more input to generate better outputs. Where can you get more input from?

Competition: First of all, recognize that there is competition. I have heard many entrepreneurs say that there is no one else doing what they are doing. This is rarely true. Before Airbnb there was CouchSurfing. Look for references from other parts of the world.

On–site observation: Do site scouting. If you want to open a bar, go sit at the location. If you feel there is an opportunity to sell and buy cars, spend a day with a car dealer. Not all the answers are on Google. Not all the information is among your group of friends. Go out there and get some inspiration. 

Books and magazines: I love these sources because behind every publication, there’s a great editing job, so the information and insights are more accurate. A tip: use the library of your college. I still use my alma mater’s library.

Trends: Several agencies are dedicated to detecting and nurturing trends. Some international resources include TrendWatching or WGSN and in Mexico there are also great resources like Leonardo1452 or the Business as Unusual trend cards.

Think about: What could be those new inputs that will help nurture your perspective? Write them down: What place will you visit? What magazine will you read? What other industries and other countries are worth exploring?

  1. Experiment. Learn fast. Alberto Savoia, who was one of Google's first engineers, famously said: “Make sure — as quickly and as cheaply as you can — that you are building The Right It before you build It right.”

I have seen innovation processes in which companies generate a large number of ideas that remain sitting in a very nice PowerPoint presentation. With beautiful renderings that are never taken to real life. They die in a boardroom. Ideas need to be tested. Begin with a minimum viable product.

When Momlancers started, we had this intuition that there were many professional moms whose talent was being underutilized. We launched the first job opening on Facebook, asking for some interview transcriptions, and we confirmed our hypothesis when we got a response from women with MBAs and Ph.D.s willing to do the job.

From the tests, our idea has transformed over the years. We discovered that moms don't just need a job offer. They need infrastructure to be able to freelance, so we provide them with lawyers, accountants, and IT support. And they also need to feel confident they will get the job, so we give them workshops, webinars, and dialogue circles to help them continue growing.

Think about: What could be your minimum viable product? How could you learn quickly if the idea you have has potential? Test it with real people and improve it. If you are thinking about a restaurant, maybe before considering renting a place, you can start with a pop-up to test your menu. Before sending a million t-shirts to be produced, you can upload an image in IG and test the reactions. 

Consider: From that idea that you have what could be the fastest way to learn from it?

Summing up:

To innovate is to generate positive change for people. 

The three keys to have an innovation mindset are:

1.   With human eyes

2.  Change your perspective

3.  Test your idea, learn and execute

Photo by:   Regina Cabal

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