Innovate with a human touch

How to innovate with a human touch

What is the smallest common denominator that you, I and all other readers of this article have in common? We’re human. Being human means that we all share a set of human wants and need, values and emotions that represent the essence of humanness. Let’s discuss how we may create more meaningful innovations by playing on the human factor, by catering to those positive wants, needs and values that represent the essence of humanness.

What do humans value in essence?

The term human can be defined as “of or characteristic of people’s better qualities, such as kindness or sensitivity.” These better human qualities distinguish us from animals, brutes and machines.

In their book Making Meaning, Steve Diller, Nathan Shedroff and Darrel Rhea identify a number of positive human factors that people appreciate and strive for all around the world. Their findings were based on 100,000 interviews conducted across countries and cultures worldwide by the strategy design firm Cheskin.

What are these universal human values? Humans like to be part of a community that provides validation and security; we cherish responsibility, fairness and truthfulness; we enjoy environments that offer cheerfulness and excitement; we treasure beauty, health and vitality; we seek harmony and balance as well as oneness with all of creation; we value freedom, expansion and creation; we long for a sense of accomplishment; and we revere a sense of wonder and enlightenment.

Questions: Which of these factors that humans universally value does your business touch upon? What other human values that you have overlooked so far could you play on, too?

What do humans do in essence?

Another way to approach the essence of humanness is by looking at what —through the ages, across cultures— humans do:

  • Humans sustain themselves. We eat and overeat and diet or fast. We drink — sometimes too much and get drunk. Some humans smoke and experiment with substances to alter or expand their consciousness.
  • Humans groom their bodies. We wash and clean ourselves and make ourselves beautiful — dress up, make-up and sometimes even make-over our looks.
  • Humans love and make love. We fall in and out of love —  flirt, date, engage, get married, procreate and build and raise a family. Eventually, we separate either by divorce or by death and mourn the loss of love.
  • Humans work. We do a job or employ ourselves or start a venture and employ others. As in ancient times, we hunt for opportunities, gather necessities and protect ourselves from danger and harm.
  • Humans play in the widest sense of the word. We sing and dance, move, run and play all kinds of sport; we role-play, joke and have fun.
  • Humans socialize. We befriend and associate with and connect with other humans —individuals and groups— meet, communicate and interact. We tell stories and shares trivial banalities and intimate secrets alike.
  • Humans learn and grow. We study and read and listen to acquire new knowledge. We rehearse, practise and exercise new skills. We seek and explore and cherish new experiences.
  • Humans believe. We have faith and pray and engage in spiritual practice.
  • Humans create. We design, build and construct new new things; write, compose and draw pieces of art; imagine, envision and plan a new, better world, then find ways to make it happen. Our innate urge to express our creativity is one of the key aspects that distinguishes us from animals and machines alike.

Questions: What parts of the human activity spectrum does your business cater to? How may you deepen the human factor of your core value offerings? How may you expand it to ancillary activities?

How can you innovate with a more human touch?

Most outstanding creations and innovations are treasured because they are deeply human-centered. They make meaning by improving people’s lives and delivering on human wants and needs. They satisfy what we value and cherish.

How can you add more human touch to your products or services? How can you create new value offerings that are more human-centered? Consider following these steps:

  1. Specify your innovation challenge in the form of a ‘How to’-action question. For example, the owner of a restaurant chain may ask: “How to improve the service experience in our restaurants?”
  2. Visualise your target customers or users. Then reread the human values and actions listed above with an open heart and mind. Ask yourself: How is each of these human factors relevant to our customers and our challenge?
  3. Create raw ideas on how to apply each relevant human factor to resolve your challenge. Ask:
    How can we cater to the human need for beauty (or any other human value you identified)?
    How can we make people feel more joyous (or any other positive human emotion)?
    How can we give people a chance to experience love (or any other human action you deem relevant)?
  4. Write down many, many ideas with a human touch, thereby suspending any critical judgment.
  5. Review your ideas. Combine and improve the most interesting ones into meaningful idea concepts.

Human-centered innovation is an integral part of our awards-winning, systematic innovation method X-IDEA. Among others, one of our powerful creativity tools that follows the methodology described above is called Human Touch. When can we help you to innovate with a human touch? Drop us a line and briefly share with us your innovation wants and needs to start our conversation.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2015. This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 12 November 2015.