Whether for a new product or service, it is essential to understand the needs of the end-user to be a successful innovator.

And, far from being a capability reserved for a gifted few, innovation is something that can be learned says Andrew Jones.

“Understanding user needs and focusing on creating value for the end user is the key,” he told an Entrepreneurs Geelong audience at its most recent breakfast briefing.

“Today we have the technology and means to talk to more consumers than ever before. Innovation is about understanding what they want to see improved in their lives, whether it’s savings in time, in money, in convenience or other benefits.”

User-centric innovation is more than a buzz-word for Andrew of G2 Innovation, a consultancy he co-founded in the UK and whose Australian arm is headquartered in Geelong.

“While our clients have no difficulty outlining KPIs for the criticality of functions such as marketing, human resources or manufacturing, typically no such KPIs exist for innovation, despite the clients’ understanding and desire for innovation to be important.”

In his journey from an engineering and design-mad youngster in the UK to relocating to Australia with his Geelong-born wife recently, Andrew realised that innovation is a skill than can be taught, is budget-independent and can be employed in enterprises, large and small.

Indicative of this, G2 will be delivering Destination Entrepreneur, a business innovation training program in partnership with Skilling the Bay. This is being offered to start-ups and SMEs in Geelong.

Such training will undoubtedly draw on many lessons learned by G2, the most fundamental being that only can an invention become an innovation when it delivers value.

That lesson is no less so for those who want to innovate in the service sector where disruption creates opportunities.

“How are you going to make life easier, or enable people to save money like they can with Airbnb or Uber?” Mr Jones asked his audience.

“It took Airbnb seven years to gain critical mass based on its success in the Over 50s travel market, as opposed to the backpackers which it had initially targeted. Tribal marketing then takes over and early adopters become advocates of the business because they love what it does.

“Innovators need to understand user needs far better than the users do,” he says.

An early step in the innovation journey, regardless of enterprise size and structure is to establish a culture of innovation. It is essential to have a clearly articulated purpose.

“This raises the challenge of changing a team’s culture to make it innovative when, as a species, we are hard-wired to resist change. Change can be achieved with knowledge and learning in small, rapid steps,” Mr Jones says.

Innovators also need a passion for what they do and a vision for where they want to go, perhaps tempered along the way by some failure.

“Failure is good because it’s learning,” Mr Jones says. Take little steps and try things out he advises.  “Don’t let people put you off. Look at failure differently and encourage “smart” failure.”

And looking at Geelong as a base for innovative enterprises Mr Jones sees no obstacles whatsoever simply advising “there is no excuse for not having an international perspective and aiming to equal or better international best practice.”