Innovation and the customer
The customer defines what successful innovation is by its implementation and use. The issue is, they may not know what the solution or outcome looks like beforehand.
A problem with asking what the customer wants is that they may not know, or they have a preconceived solution in mind that may not be viable or effective, or it may be even undesirable or unsuitable. There is a problem of unlimited choice being a hindrance to decision-making. Be cautious of the “if money was no object…?” or “In a perfect world…?” questions as they can be paralysing due to the questions being unstructured and limitless.
Freedom in creativity and innovation is best defined within a discipline. An example could be this: a skilled dancer can move freely, fluidly and with unbounded creativity because of years of disciplined training and structured practice. A skilled person will know what boundaries to push though and what rules can be challenged. If I tried the same free expression through dance I would probably break something, most likely myself, I certainly would not enjoy the experience and I can guarantee it would not be a pretty sight.
Determining customer needs without prejudging the result or outcome will better define what a solution will look like. The needs assessment has to be done with a great deal of care and skill, without an agenda or preferred outcome in mind. Do not lead the customer into giving you the answer you want to hear.
If you apply the assessed needs with innovative processes then a solution that is beneficial to both the customer and the innovator is possible, but it may be entirely different to any preexisting solutions you or the customer may have started with.
Paul S Allen