This first appeared in The Huffington Post, 18th July 2013.
After reading part 1 of this blog you will understand that I am an advocate of innovation being a habit in your business. You’ll also know I’m into failing – lots. Being innovative means coming up with ideas that, in the first instance, will fail. From these failures I will learn lessons and through a process of trial and error over time I will develop new and innovative solutions.
In part 2 of this blog my main focus looks at how to be creative and how to ensure your business becomes more innovative. I share insights on how to engage people with your new ideas. As a reminder, innovation is creativity with a job to do. If we can’t get people in the business buying into our ideas and ultimately implementing them, then the hard work of coming up with ideas is little more than creative vanity.
I hate brainstorming sessions. The trouble with ‘brainstorming’ is that all the assumptions that you may make, without even realising, constrain your thinking. All your ‘brainstormed’ solutions are therefore also constrained by these assumptions. As a result, many of the ideas from brainstorming sessions seem to go nowhere – the wanted breakthrough idea never happens.
The way we generate ideas, or ‘ideation’ as it is sometimes known, must be free from the restrictive assumptions we already have in place. These assumptions might be about the flavours, package type, time of consumption or channels to market – in short about almost any aspect of what we do in business. When running proper ideation sessions we often use a range of exercises. On the face of it these exercises can sometimes feel a little strange, but with practice they become easier and more productive.
Examples of the exercises include:
Build a connection
Take a random object and work out its features and its benefits. Thinking about the target of your innovation, work out what the equivalent of each of these features and benefits would be for you. For example, if the random object is a pen, one of its benefits is the fact that it is portable. If you were thinking about a new product you might consider how you could make it more portable. The more features and benefits you find of your random object the more ideas you will generate.
Break it down
Often, we try to innovate a whole product or service which can be very difficult. Instead, choose a tiny element of the product or service and work out how you could innovate just that one aspect. If thinking about a product, you might focus on the innovation in the printing on the package. For example, if you could only change the printing what would you do? This might lead you into thinking about ‘scratch and sniff’ or ‘flavoured’ printing. If you were thinking about a service, you may decide just to focus on a single dimension such as ‘home delivery’ and you may choose to break that down into the customer notification of a delivery. This may lead you to innovate the way you communicate with the customer using social media. These are just simple examples to illustrate what is meant.
One of the best methods of creating innovation is the Russian method of TRIZ. Developed by Soviet inventor and science fiction writer Genrich Altshuller, one of the underlying principles of TRIZ is that the vast majority of problems requiring innovative solutions need to overcome a trade-off between two contradictory elements. For example, a mass-produced customisable product: It’s possible to mass-produce something that’s the same, and it’s possible to hand craft bespoke unique items, but mass-producing bespoke unique items is a contradictory requirement. If you are interested in the tools used to solve contradictions such as this then read Semyon Savransky’s book “Engineering of creativity: Introduction to TRIZ Methodology of Inventive Problem Solving”.
There are a great many creative exercises you can use and a great many sites listing them. Put ‘innovation exercises’ into Google to find lots more.
Top athletes practice the skills they need until they become world class, with this in mind learn some idea creation tasks and practice doing them with your team. Remember, innovation needs a focus, so choose a topic before you try the exercises out. The first few times you try a new exercise it probably won’t work very well. Practice, practice, practice and soon you find yourself regarded as one of the best sources of new ideas in your business.
How to overcome organisational resistance
This touches on a very broad area encompassing change management. There are two or three elements that really seem to make a difference.
Selling ideas in
There are five simple principles to follow when attempting to get other people to buy into an idea for a new product or service:
1) A great product / service
It must be a good idea that fits with the business strategy and makes sense in the market place or for the business. This is first and foremost.
2) Effective position
A problem solved is a product sold. What is the problem the product or service solves? Why is this such a good solution to that problem?
3) Powerful presentation
Create a sense of how things could look with this product or service in place. Paint the picture of the future. The image you create will help inspire and excite people.
4) Compelling testimonials
Where is the evidence to show why this is a good idea? Maybe your idea has worked in other similar markets, perhaps you have great research predicting the likelihood of success, or maybe there is academic evidence to support your approach. Fundamentally you need to demonstrate that this is more than just a whim.
5) Irresistible offer
Everybody loves a bargain! What other things could be achieved by bringing this product or service to market? If you can find multiple benefits for the proposition it becomes far more compelling.
These five points might look remarkably simple – that’s because they are. These points address key elements that you ought to be able to show about any new idea, product or service to add gravitas.
Overcoming organisational resistance is about helping others feel in control of what you are doing. Build strong relationships and take the time to understand other people’s perspectives and concerns. The best ideas will help them succeed as well as you.
How to build an innovation organisation
John Lord, in the book “Developing new food products for a changing market place” summed it up best:
• Firms that don’t encourage entrepreneurial behavior will not observe any
• Firms that discourage or penalize taking risks will find that no one in the firm is willing to take risks
• Firms that don’t provide adequate investment capital can never achieve big winners
• Firms that don’t put the best people in effective cross-functional teams, on new products, will succeed only rarely
• Firms that demand immediate returns will have only limited successes with line extensions but no innovation
• Projects which lack the individual—the new product champion—willing to see the project through, and willing to fight the battles to obtain necessary resources, will wither for lack of support
• Organizations lacking clear goals and direction for new product efforts will find a real difficulty in achieving a coherent and coordinated effort which is both effective and efficient
• The bottom line is that firms that do not invest in innovation won’t experience any innovation
Think about the behaviours you would like to see in your organisation and work out how you would measure them. Include these measures in your performance management system. People do what is in their best interest, so make innovation in their best interest and count how innovative they are.
Innovation is a skill. Like any skill it requires practice. The more you practice and the more you learn about the different skills involved in friction free innovation then the more success you will have. Innovation is for everyone, at every level in the business, and every part of business can be innovated.
If I had one piece of advice it would be to take on the challenge of escaping your existing thinking. So many good ideas die because of the limitations of the way we think. An idea is like a flame, when it’s small like a lit match it can be blown out. As it takes hold, that same breath of air will increase the flames. Dismissing an idea immediately is like blowing the match out. Give the idea time to get hold and you never know where it could lead.
Dominic Irvine © July 2013 All rights asserted
Read more about our innovative thinking applied to L&D programmes here.