Deep Dive

How do you measure the impact of innovation?

Published on
February 20, 2024
Matthew Gira
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Every innovation has different timelines. It might be an innovation that has immediate impact. It also might be an innovation that takes generations to truly see the full impact.

In my conversation with Jason Kehrer, we talked about these different timelines of innovation and how organizations of all sizes measure the impact of innovation.

What I realized in this conversation with Jason is that yes we can put metrics around success of innovation, but the art of innovation might be more important when measuring the impact.

Some of the topics we cover in this conversation all have metrics, but those metrics might be completely different if the art of innovation was different. If someone just had made the decision to do this product placement, or realized that the timing of an opportunity is now right, well, the metrics are probably a lot different. No measurement could have told you the right answer off the bat.

Now, Jason is someone that encouraged and taught me a lot in my first years of this type of innovation work. He’s been all over the map in terms of innovation. He’s worked with churches, with K-12 schools, with universities, with agencies, and most recently, with Newell Brands, the company that owns brands like Elmer, Rubbermade, and Sharpie. He’s seen innovation done in so many different ways.

Here are some snippets from my conversation with Jason Kehrer:

Note: these answers are summaries and are cleaned up to be easier to read. Full answers can be found in the full episode!

Has there been a moment where a problem has been solved so well by you, your team, or just by someone you admire that you think you’ll remember the rest of your career? If so, what is it?

Part of my journey has involved diverse projects, from large system-level endeavors to small product developments. Notable among them is the impactful work I did a decade ago in K-12 education, collaborating with various sectors to reshape the education-to-employment path. This inclusive effort, driven by human-centered design, brought together businesses, schools, and government agencies to create a more effective system. These are stakeholders that can work together, but it’s not easy. They all can have very different priorities at times.

One of the challenges with this particular innovation was the difficulty of measuring the impact of this innovation work. Businesses often expect immediate success from new products or services, but this wasn’t an innovation that fit that mold. With this innovation work in K-12 education, we can’t measure it based on metrics for this year. They’re metrics that we don’t get to fully measure until this generation has gone on to have careers.

8 years ago, you did a TEDx talk on Empathy in Everyday life. You talked about how bad the experiences of TSA, buying a car, and the line at the grocery stores weren’t built well for anyone involved. If you had to redesign one of those experiences, what frameworks or tools would you use to get ideas on paper and create an experience that works for at least one of the stakeholders?

TSA is still pretty bad. It varies greatly depending on the airport and the individual staff members. While the focus on passenger experience is getting better, the employee experience seems to have been overlooked, resulting in overworked and underappreciated agents. Neglecting the employee experience is a pretty big deal and something that could be much better.

The process of purchasing a car also still stinks. They still have outdated CRM systems inundating customers with irrelevant emails for example. Despite having the necessary tools available to them, the lack of personalization and good experience is still there. Maybe AI solutions could potentially streamline the car-buying process and enhance the overall customer experience? It’ll be interesting to see if AI plays a part going forward.

One experiment that I’m curious about is the Amazon and Nissan partnership to be able to purchase a car on Amazon. It’s promising, but the automotive industry still as a whole struggles to provide a seamless experience. Carvana and other startups have tried to improve the experience but they haven’t nailed it either.

You studied Religion & Psychology at this little school named Hope College. You’re now an innovation expert. How did you go from religion & psychology to innovation work? Why stick with innovation work?

You can take classes and programs and there's tons of books that you can read.

The reality is a great person that hangs out in the space is super curious. For a long time, I didn't realize that I was a natural synthesizer. It was very easy for me to see three different things and put them together and go, Oh, here's what you can do. I thought everybody could do that.

Not everybody is good at that. Not everybody should be good at that. If you're curious and can see this thing and a completely different business and start to see how those things relate or what you could learn from them, those are good clues that you might be really good at this work.

I didn't go to school for this. I have a psychology and religion degree from a small liberal arts school which was a very scary experience because I didn't know what I was going to do when I graduated.

I've done lots of different things, but I think it makes me better. I’ve met all of these different people from all over the world and that gives me a lot of points of context to draw from. It helps me make better connections and solve problems better.

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