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What is Continuous Innovation? 

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

We all work for customers of one kind or another. Businesses work for external customers who pay for goods and services that solve their problems. External customers pay for goods and services as needed and generally are free to shop around and get what they feel is the best value for their money. Employees work for internal customers and provide services that solve problems for their bosses or for other employees within an organization. 

Competition is Everywhere 

In a global economy where competition is everywhere, businesses that fall short of providing excellence lose customers. Providing high quality and exceeding expectations are the path to excellence. In the realm of employees and internal customers, competition is keen with people all over the globe willing to work for less money and robotics and automation taking over more and more of the work. Employees that fall short of providing excellence lose their jobs. A culture of continuous innovation can help businesses and employees prosper. 

Customers Expect What They Expect 

Customers have expectations regarding the solutions for which they are willing to pay and it is our job to communicate that we can meet these expectations for the agreed upon price, or wage rate. The mismatch of expectations and results is what causes lost customers and lost jobs. A basic level of competency and consistency is required of businesses and employees to even be in the game, but many competitors and job applicants also offer the basics so just getting in the game does not mean you won't be replaced. 

Surprises: Customers Love the Good, Hate the Bad 

There are two kinds of surprises; customers hate one and love the other. Customers don't like to be surprised by unmet expectations. It is essential that the offerings by a business or employee be clearly communicated so the customer knows what he or she is buying. Systems and practices are built to facilitate quality and make things go right nearly all the time, but when things don't go right we have to communicate with the customer to a new or modified solution. 

Customers love to be surprised by exceeded expectations. A culture of continuous innovation gets everyone in the habit of observing the customers and figuring out ways they can add positively to the customer experience. Many times this is a matter of looking at the customer with empathy (not sympathy) trying to fully understand the process that led the customer to seek a solution in the first place.  

No One Wants to Make Another Appointment 

For example, many auto repair businesses don't fully realize the inconvenience their customers experience in bringing a vehicle for repair. Many times, it means taking time off work or business to take the car to the establishment. Sometimes this means a friend or family member has to also take time off to give a ride to and from the establishment. The last thing I want to hear when I pick up my vehicle is "OK, we fixed your problem with your gadget, but we noticed that your widget needs attention and we encourage you to schedule an appointment really soon to have it fixed." While the expectation of repairing the gadget was met, this business missed an opportunity for the good kind of surprise by not calling me about the widget, allowing me to authorize additional widget repair rather than having to go through all the inconvenience of scheduling another appointment. 

New Wheels Not Always Required 

Continuous innovation doesn't mean you have to always be reinventing wheels and inventing new products and services. More often continuous innovation can be a habit of empathizing with customers and employers, trying to anticipate ways not only to solve the requested problems, but also related problems and inconveniences. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks. 


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