Insight Driven Innovation

“If I’d asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” – Henry Ford
“If I’d asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” – Henry Ford
Henry Ford’s much quoted saying contains within it one of the most important lessons for innovators. To make Innovation successful requires an understanding of customers’ needs that runs deeper than simply asking them.

Insight has to be the first stage of an innovation process. It is, at its core, about knowing your customer. Get this right and the flow of ideas through the innovation process will result in innovations that create value, for your business and your customers.

Get insight wrong and, if you are lucky, you will pivot and change direction during idea generating and testing. If you are unlucky, you will launch a product, process or service that does not succeed and the failure to gather deep, sound insights will be measured in the cost of your investment in a failed implementation.


Insights come from data and immersion. Surveys, focus groups, data and interviews are all useful for gathering insight. However, for insight driven innovation, these need to be validated by being in customers shoes. It is this combination of data and observation that leads to deep insights on which to build ideas.

P&G’s customer insight team spends huge amounts of time with customers to gain insights that feed the R&D pipeline. At Timpson, the shoe repair shop, the leadership team spend a huge chunk of their time on the road, visiting shops so that they can stay close to their customers, and Google and other tech companies observe the activities of their users to isolate problems with existing software and opportunities for new innovations to solve customers’ needs.

Insight Driven Innovation

Thinking again about that Henry Ford quote, he probably heard his customers saying that what they wanted was faster horses. But he found the insight behind it. His thinking may have been something like this:

“Yes, they want faster horses. That means they want to get from place to place faster.”

A faster horse would perhaps have been possible, through breeding, careful feeding, or exercise. However, this would have been, at best, an incremental improvement. What Henry Ford realised was that people wanted to get from place to place at greater speed, and he had just the innovation to serve their need.

If you want to bring Innovation into the everyday in your business, you need to be in your customers’ shoes. Whether your team’s customers are external or internal, if you want to launch a new product, process or offering, get insight into the needs of the people who will use it and it will be far more likely to succeed.