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  • Karen Zeigler

How Company Innovations Fail in the Users' Interview Stage

Updated: Jul 28


Understanding innovation initiative failures


There's no pleasant way of putting it - it sucks when an innovation initiative fails. Regardless of the type - product launch, marketing campaign, or change management - initiative losses are discouraging at the very least. Dangerous at their worst. Your company invested a great deal of time and money into the initiative, and so did everyone involved including you as the leader. Resources like time, money, human resources, market reputation, and customer goodwill are just a few things sinking with the loss of an initiative. String together too many failures, there is the loss of enthusiasm, hope, and often jobs. And not to kick you while you're down in the dumps, but it likely went awry in the earliest stage of your discovery. In the initial phase of user experience interviews. In design thinking, this initial phase is called empathy.


Empathy is more than understanding feelings


In design thinking, empathy is more than understanding emotions. On the contrary, I argue in this post that it's likely you don't even have to "understand" feelings to create innovative solutions. However, to ignore them altogether is detrimental, which I write briefly on in this LinkedIn post. While understanding the user experience is titled empathy in design thinking, there is a lot more to it. And this "lot more" is fully understanding the experience from the user's perspective.


Fully understanding user experience is the bedrock that builds or breaks innovation initiatives.

So while your user may look different depending on your work, like

  • R&D manager whose user is the customer

  • Marketing manager whose user is customers, partners or employees

  • HR leader whose user is employees or other company leaders

  • CIO whose user is C-suite or line of business executives

the lesson of empathy is universal. And the mistakes made in understanding the user are widespread. Let's look at a hypothetical example to unpack these common mistakes.


When simple words aren't so simple


As an illustration, let's consider the maker of a healthcare test. Their customers have a condition that comes and goes. The unnerving thing is that depending on underlying indicators; there are times when everything will be fine and others where they will die. Currently, customers have to go to a hospital for the test. They can ignore the alarms, and everything turns out fine, or they can ignore the warnings and end up dead. Your company wants to interview users with the condition to learn more about what keeps them from getting to the hospital for the test. You've talked with three users so far, and one comment sticks out on all three.


"I can't afford to go to the hospital."

On the surface, you have your answer. It's the cost of going to the hospital that is the issue. Your innovation challenge is creating a means of testing that is cheap. Case closed! But is the case closed? Although that is one possibility, there are others. In fact, for every circumstance, three aspects require us to dig deeper to understand our user's experience and their needs fully.


Meaning, perspective, and feelings create unde