Innovation: Moving past myth to breakthroughs

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Innovation: Moving past myth to breakthroughs

The innovation myth


Innovation is sold to us as something that happens when an individual has a lightbulb moment. It’s a myth that keeps getting passed on, and it’s about time we debunk it. The reality is, most innovation is based on the understanding of a real problem that human beings have. Innovation starts with insights about real people, their real lives, and their actual problems.


Identifying problems that can lead to innovation can happen through our own experiences. However, when we identify problems ourselves that point to a potential innovation, it’s important to validate that this is a real need in the world beyond our own tiny universe. And innovation that relies on our own experiences alone is not necessarily replicable – meaning it might lead to one great innovation, but it’s highly unlikely to lead to 100 or even 10.


So how do we create breakthrough innovations that are replicable and can sustain a company over the long term?


Case study: Hello Fresh

Let’s look at a case study to start. Around 2012 we saw the launch of several major meal-prep services, including Hello Fresh. They created an entirely new market built upon insights about the pain points, lifestyle, and attitudes of a large segment of the population: busy professionals.


Some of the insights they uncovered were:


  • Busy professionals don’t have time for meal planning + shopping + prep
  • Eating out regularly is expensive and generally unhealthy
  • People enjoy the satisfaction of cooking


Their answer was the meal-kit service, which delivered this value proposition:


  • Time saving & convenient
  • Customizable
  • High quality & healthy
  • Homemade
  • Affordable


Meal kit delivery services succeed because they address a real need with a solution that delivers benefits people care about.


How does this apply to alternative proteins?


You might be wondering how this applies to plant-based meats and cell-based meats. Let’s start by acknowledging these truths about food. Food is:


  • Intertwined in virtually every aspect of our life
  • Entangled in a system of complex beliefs and stories
  • Complicated by an ever-changing landscape and bombarding of conflicting information


The good news is that anywhere emotions run high, so do problems and opportunities to change behavior. And every company working on alternative protein wants to do just that: change behavior – away from today’s highly unsustainable, unhealthy, and unethical animal agriculture system.


Hypothetical case study


The alternative protein sector is largely targeting people who behave as “flexitarians” – meaning they still consume meat but are actively trying to reduce their consumption and open to trying alternatives.


What if we followed we followed Theresa, a “flexitarian” around the grocery store and we learn …


  • She only buys organic meat because she thinks it’s healthier
  • She won’t buy beef due to environmental concerns
  • She’ll consider non-organic products only if on sale
  • She says, “I hate reading labels.”
  • When we pass the frozen plant meats, she says, “I don’t eat ‘fake meat’ because there are too many weird ingredients.”
  • When we get to the ground beef section, she chooses the Beyond Burger. She says, “I really miss beef. Plus, the package says GMO-free, which is as almost as healthy as organic.”


Then, what if we followed ten flexitarians around the grocery store and we find that just like Theresa


  • Most only buy organic meat for “health reasons”
  • Most think organic is a proxy for healthy
  • Most won’t buy a plant-based meat unless they can easily verify it’s organic


What implications might that have for your product line and your messaging? Even still, what might that mean for the entire plant-based meat industry? Or the entire clean meat industry?  For example, what if because of government regulations, clean meat companies couldn’t use the term “organic,” yet it’s a critical piece of the decision-making process for flexitarians?


This is only a hypothetical case study, however, it sheds light on the types of insights we could be gaining with research. And it also sheds light on the potential impacts of not gaining these types of understanding as we’re developing and marketing products.


Reliably innovating


The most reliable way to innovate on a sustained basis is to get insights about what’s happening with human beings in the world at large relative to the problem space we care about. The best way to get these breakthrough insights is through qualitative research such as observation in context or interviews.


Insights are themes gathered from real or prospective customers. They can describe real behavior, such as how someone does something today & why. In detail, they can describe: underlying motivations, reasoning, pain points, attitudes and preferences, underlying belief systems, and influences.


Some of the benefits of gathering insights are:


  • They help you uncover unmet needs and opportunities
  • They help you speak to customers in their language
  • They help you match your products and services to real people’s needs


In short: a great solution to a real problem, plus messaging that resonates leads to better business outcomes.


Dawn Ressel
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