Innovation Process : A Fresh Take!

Bright shining star symbolising the north star that can guide an innovation mission.

Innovation processes are important to delivering successful innovation. A good process will ensure that teams use their time and other resources efficiently and effectively.  At the same time, a good process will enable teams to channel their creative thinking into the project and also retain that creative thinking all the way through to the introduction or launch. However, processes can always be improved…

Balancing Global and Specific Perspectives.

One criticism of innovation processes is that sometimes the process is so detailed that innovators lose sight of their purpose in the broader sense. This can happen for example in a consumer insight process when innovators get narrowly focused about the consumer need and the context. Sometimes this helps, and an effective invention can be found to deliver against the consumer insight. But sometimes it does not work, and then there is a need to stand back and look at the customer problem more broadly. This may lead to a completely different type of solution. For example, some online shopping companies and their courier companies were severely challenged to keep increasing the number of out of hours delivery slots they could offer. The problem focus became: getting to the consumer when they are at home.

By standing back, they realized that there was another solution that did not have the same capacity limitations – setting up collection lockers at convenience stores, supermarkets and fuel stations.

The problem was initially expressed by the consumer as “ deliver to me when I am at home”. But many consumers were also happy with “deliver to a place that I can access when it’s convenient to me”.

How refreshing therefore to hear about a succinct expression of innovation process at a very high level that can help us to keep the big picture in mind throughout.

A Response to a Growing Trend.

The ‘author’ of this process is Sara Horowitz. Her extremely simple innovation process guided her as she set up the Freelancers Insurance company and turned it into a multi million dollar success.

Sara, started work as a lawyer in the late 1990’s, and discovered to her surprise that despite being ‘employed’ she was classified as an ‘independent contractor’. She was therefore not entitled to healthcare and other benefits. She was angry and wanted to do something about it. However, she also realized that trying to persuade firms to provide the benefits would be going against the tide of the way employment conditions were going.

She therefore decided to set up an insurance company to provide health care benefits to freelancers!

She has been enormously successful. The company has revenues of over $100 million dollars and has over 25,000 customers in New York.

Sara's Innovation Process.

So, what was her innovation process and what can we learn from it?

  1. Find the north star that guides your mission
  2. Practice poking holes in your business model until you're certain it will actually work.
  3. Find people who understand the concept of loyalty

As processes go, it's succinct!. But the significant potential and value of her approach is embedded within it.

An Innovation Mission.

Sara’s mission was to ‘improve the lives of freelancers’ – a new and growing category of American worker.

The benefit of having a sense of mission about your innovation process is that simultaneously it can keep the innovator focused on what a successful outcome will be. At the same time it allows them flexibility to achieve the outcome in different ways. This is what happened to Sara as she planned originally for a for-profit model, then changed to a non-profit model and then finally went back to for-profit before launch.

Sometimes innovations process can get us very focused on the specifics of an individual customer need and a small amount of relevant context. But sometimes it‘s worth pulling out the focus a bit on your customers’ lives and seeing their whole web of needs and the web of the context and how they are all related.

Testing the Business Model.

All innovators are familiar with the business model testing aspect of innovation. But do we always test it enough? Sara locked herself in a room with a bunch of analysts from Goldman Sachs for her due diligence. Calling on some outsiders who are not emotionally invested in the innovation can be critical for objectively testing the model.


Here Sara is talking about a new angle on relationship building with her customers. Loyalty is often seen as something to be encouraged through extrinsic rewards – promotional pricing or points schemes. In effect, short term initiatives to retain the customer to the next milestone.

What Sara does is motivate her customers with a long term view of loyalty. She wants her customers to stay around so that the business can continue to support freelancers into subsequent generations. So that is exactly her appeal to them. It’s an appeal to the heart which of course needs to be complimented by a strong rational proposition that delivers to the head.

However, it seems she is tapping into something here that could be very powerful at connecting customers with her company and keeping them engaged and loyal for the long term. Sara’s philosophy has likely been influenced by her family background as proud union members. Her proposition has been influenced with her dalliance with a non-profit model.

So, her insurance proposition for freelancers is an innovation, but you could say she’s innovated innovation process too!

Read more about the Sara Horowitz and the Freelancers Insurance Company.

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