“Always going back to a benchmark anchored in reality forces you to articulate a clear point of view about what’s truly important.” – Diego Rodriguez
I found this excellent insight from IDEO‘s Diego Rodriguez as his contribution to LinkedIn’s Best Advice series. Recounting a time at IDEO when his team had produced a wide array of dazzling prototypes, Rodiguez shares how they felt stuck in deciding which one to select:
IDEO founder David Kelley strolled by to say hello and to watch us demonstrate our ideas. He listened patiently as we explained our dilemma, and responded with one simple question: “What’s the best alternative available to people today? Choose compared to that.”
Behind David’s powerful question is the best innovation advice I’ve ever received:
Compare to reality, not to some imaginary standard of perfection.
The truth was that even our least amazing prototype was miles ahead of the competition. It also happened to be the simplest concept, and the one that most tightly addressed the actual needs we’d heard from people we had interviewed and observed. Even if it didn’t fulfill our fantasies of perfection, we chose that option as the way forward, and we ended up nailing it: our award-winning design sold like hotcakes. Fifteen years later, it’s still in production, making people happy.
This is a key insight which speaks to one of the core tenets of design thinking: that the solution be created from a point of deep empathy and understanding so that it truly serves the need of the target audience, not the ego of the designer.
Some say that rooting your choices in reality is a sure path to mediocrity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Dedicating yourself to understanding what people really want — how they’ll experience a product in the real world — forces you to get away from your desk and make a tangible difference. Instead of just talking about a grand paradise of what might be, putting in the effort to understand people’s day-to-day lives, and then actually producing something that works, is what separates a true innovation from a merely good idea.
Great innovators dream, but they are also relentless about comparing those dreams to the real world, and acting accordingly.