This is a list questions/statements I’ve assembled over the years that have really helped me to think about how to be innovative in my companies.  They are in no particular order. They might help you innovate in your company.

Where is your industry/category going?  How are your consumers changing with respect to taste’s, preferences and purchasing/buying behavior?  What is the nature of supply, demand, logistics, impacts of weather, etc. that is changing your industry/category? How can you position yourself to take advantage of where things will be in 1, 3 or 5 years? 

For example, I did some advisory work with a confectionary company. I told them that despite their high quality and relatively unique-flavored product, their chances of succeeding in the crowded chocolate category were low, so instead, they should focus on owning their supply chain from which they source their unique chocolate flavors and provide the raw ingredients to brands. Since cacao supply in general is shrinking worldwide due to crop failures from changing weather patterns, owning the supply may represent a significant value driver in the future, much more so that owning a small confectionery brand in a very crowded consumer marketplace.  

What assets (physical/tangible, skills, IP, contacts, partner companies, other relationships, geographic, data, brand/awareness) do you have that can be leveraged? 

For example, one advantage with living in Denver, Colorado is that it is relatively central to the Continental U.S. and Canada, with a major airport that has direct flights to major and many minor airports and many international flights.  Does this provide an advantage if you have to travel a lot to all parts of the U.S. and/or Canada?

Identify the key areas in your business that consume resources of time, money, and/or management mindshare.  Odds are, those are significant pain points not just for you, but other companies as well, which means someone or some company out there is trying to solve it.  Go find them and either outsource to them or bring in their technology to help you.

For example, packaging development has always been frustratingly expensive and time consuming…a real stumbling block to the nimble business that wants to exploit market opportunities.  

Can you find comparables, and especially failures in your industry/category so you can learn from them?  Can you take out the failure so you can engineer success?  Be careful not to rationalize failures.

“Jump to the next curve – don’t try to do existing better, but do something new”.

Guy Kawasaki said this

Is your product an evolutionary improvement or a revolutionary improvement?  The latter tends to have the most impact and reward, but also usually carries much more risk.

For example, the first iPhone can be considered a revolutionary improvement in mobile handsets. 

In a perfect world, what is the absolute best outcome or dream that your product/service delivers?  Can you engineer backwards based on that outcome and pull together the right resources to achieve it?

How do you create captive customers – that is, they not only want to buy from you, but they can only buy from you? 

Evernote is a great example.  They certainly have me as a captive customer.  See more here about captive customers

Would a buyer of your product truly feel a “WOW”…be honest.  Wow suggests it is something they have not experienced before and which is so clearly different from anything similar they have tried in the past.  If not, what would WOW look like in your product or service: features, benefits, attributes, functionality, taste, appearance, size, ingredients/materials, how made, how sold/delivered, marketing messaging, price/value, sustainability/green, quality, longevity, customer reviews, customer experience, customer service/support, any others you can think of?  And, how do you get to WOW?

I find that asking people directly about a product idea does not yield the most informative answers. A better approach is to focus more on the outcome that the idea delivers in the context of what need or pain the potential customer is experiencing. Outcomes can satisfy benefits across different spectrums – financial, emotional, physical, and spiritual – so be aware of that when qualifying answers/data in your research.

What compelling problem does your product solve for them? (We’re talking about a problem that actually causes pain, not a mild annoyance.) Do they know they have the problem, and do they care? Seriously, do customers really care? Enough to spend money on a solution?

Can you solve a problem in an unexpected, but delightful way?

How can you make your customer’s life easier? Think beyond the product’s use, but how it’s packaged, purchased, priced, thrown-out, recycled, when you collect payment, durability, how it looks when it ages, etc.

What marketing idea, customer-adoption method, industry, company, or trend is winning mindshare and dollars and why.  Can you leverage or adapt any of that for your benefit? Where is technology going and how to exploit for your industry/category?

Does your idea exploit something about you personally that is outstanding or unique?

Is there an area in your category where competitors are not with a particular product form or function that you can exploit and which they won’t care about?