I spent an hour this morning with an inventor who pitched me his newest great idea. I asked him, “Where did you get the idea?” He was inspired while walking his dog, and his answer then quickly moved to the idea’s “coolness factor.”

When I asked who would buy it, how much it might cost, where he would sell it…the conversation stalled.

Seldom are truly innovative products or processes conceived in your shower, at your office or on your local bike trail. Innovations are most often a culmination of several ideas already in use that the innovator has combined to satisfy a new or emerging customer demand using a process. Remember, the first iPhone combined existing technologies—phone, personal assistant, music, even the touchscreen into a truly innovative product (that I’m not sure I could live without…).

Great innovators “connect the dots” across industries, ideas, problems and solutions that others find unrelated.

IDEO describes the process—which we all can exercise—in 5 steps:

1. Questioning is effectively asking “why” questions, “what if” and “why not” to understand why things are the way they are and how they might be disrupted.

2. Observing is carefully watching the world to gain insights about how your customer will use your idea.

3. Networking is having the courage to elicit feedback from “experts” regarding the viability of your idea.

4. Brainstorming is the process of summarizing what you’ve learned and preparing for prototyping.

5. Prototyping is a disciplined, iterative process of experimenting to learn.

In Sean Wise and Brad Feld’s newest book, Startup Opportunities: Know When to Quit Your Day Job, he states that:

“The idea is durable: It is not a fad and will last long enough to allow it to be monetized. The idea is timely: The market is ready to buy the solution. The idea is attractive: The potential rewards and returns on investment far exceed the foreseeable costs and resources to create the product. The idea adds value: It must lead to a product or service that creates or adds value for its buyer or end user.

Ideas are easy…. Innovations that create real value in our world require a process.

What process are you following?