When you work with corporate innovators enough, you start to see patterns. Buzzwords get tossed around, trends get followed, innovation books du-jour are read and quoted. We all tend to get comfortable, justifying the ways of working in corporate innovation by echoing and internalizing ideology we’ve heard a thousand times before.

The reality of these “truths” of innovation? They’re often not true. Here’s a prime example:

“We know what our customers/consumers want.”

We recently did a project with a very smart corporate innovation team. This was an experienced group, with a lot of corporate veterans. Everyone seemed to think they knew what their target customer was thinking. There were long-standing company stories about their target that everyone shared and believed, supported by personal anecdotes from team members and comments from the sales team based on input from a few customers.

Guess what. The innovation team had never actually talked to anyone outside of their company directly. Instead, they let internal mythology and personal perspectives drive their assumptions and solutions. Internal wisdom has its place, but here’s what would be game-changing: If corporations promoted healthy debate around the “we always” and “a customer told me” and “here’s my own experience” conversations. Instead of assuming legacy information is relevant (or true), make a new habit: Question it. You may discover a fresh counterpoint, and it’s a lot cheaper and faster than mistakes that can occur when relying on second-hand information.

Challenging long-held beliefs and reliance on second-hand information is uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. It’s work that can either validate existing beliefs or create new ones—both equally important, and well worth the time and money to make sure you are solving meaningful problems.

Consider the sources of your insights. If you haven’t taken the time to get first-hand learnings from your target, perhaps it’s time to rethink your learning plan.

Are there any “stories” you or your colleagues are telling yourself? More importantly, what could  you do to change them?


352 is an innovation and growth firm. Leading companies hire us to find billion-dollar opportunities, build killer new products and create hockey-stick growth. We bring grit and new-fashioned thinking to innovation, digital development and growth marketing.