Innovation’s Single Biggest Question

There is not a bigger question for innovators — social, product, service, policy — than What are you hiring this [ ] to do for you? 

Let’s break this down a little and then explain why we ask that at the beginning of any engagement and all throughout from the first meeting to the final run of the evaluation data. The question gets us to shape what and how we might design our innovation while the answer is about the ways we tell what kind of value it generates and the impact it produces.

What’s in a question?

The start of the question is about you, the aspiring innovator. This highlights the role of the creator and reminds us that we are generating this ‘thing’ by procurement, by design, or by simply encouraging something to be made. Without us (i.e., you), nothing changes.

The active use of hire is about the reality that we are paying for innovation through our time, our energy, our focus, our social (and often political) capital, and our money. All of these could be spent elsewhere. Design is an investment and it’s purposeful. Asking this big question gets us to pause and think deeply about what we’re putting into innovation and what we’re looking to get out of it.

The [ ] is the thing you’re hiring — the proposed service, experience, product, policy, or ecosystem — and is what you’re purposefully bringing about. This is your idea manifest into something real.

The last part is ‘to do for you‘ is active: it’s about ensuring that you’re clear about what purposes it serves. No matter how beneficial your planned innovation might be for others, you are ultimately asking it to serve a role, fill a need, for you. It is you that wants to solve a problem, build a market, or prevent something from happening, and this requires some clarity to innovate well.

What’s in an answer?

Innovation is not just creating things, it’s about evaluating the things we create. If our novel products, services, experiences, and policies don’t generate value for people, they aren’t really innovations. It’s just stuff.

An evaluation perspective on the question asked above might look at things like:

-The roles people played in the innovation process, including the skills they used, experiences they had, and the insights that they gained along the way. This learning is what feeds into our understanding of how an innovation develops along with the people and organization it is a part of. All of that is part of the innovation dividend or ROI.

-The resources used as part of the ‘hiring‘ process like money, time, human resources, and other capital; all can help look at the value of the initiative to see if the costs and benefits make sense.

-What ‘things’ are produced — the prototypes, their functioning, their benefits, and weakness — as well as provide a means to document the iterations, the steps taken, the new ‘offshoots’ that might emerge, and the resulting products, services, experiences, and policies.

-Lastly, the innovation needs to fulfill some requirements or expectations and evaluation looks at what it does in the world, for whom, under what conditions, and what other impacts might emerge unintentionally. This helps assess risks, benefits, and find new opportunities for further development and innovation.

Better questions, better answers

Innovation is what will drive much of the future value of your organization. It’s what allows you to build, grow, adapt, or sustain what you’re doing because even if you don’t feel a need to change, everything is changing around you and sometimes you need to change just to stay where you are.

By asking this one simple question you might find answers that will lead you to much better innovations to shape and create that future.

We help our clients ask this question. If you want our help, contact us and we’ll gladly help you ask better questions for better answers.

Scroll to Top