By Chris Griffiths
Innovation continues to be the topic of the moment and something that most organisations claim is a top priority. Who doesn’t want to outsmart the competition, be the hottest trendsetter or transform the business landscape with the ‘next big thing’? Innovation won’t somehow just ‘happen’, especially not in environments where professionals are so busy confronting the immediate demands of their job that they have little freedom to create and test out new ideas. Armed with these 4 top tips, you can succeed at delivering innovation in ways that count.
1. Employ a proactive strategy
Without knowing it, most of us operate in a ‘reactive mode’. Every day, we’re assailed with immense volumes of data that clamour for our attention – emails, reports, social media, news, calendar reminders, texts, Skype, blogs – the list goes on. Rather than be proactive with our time and energy, we get caught up reacting to the latest item to land in our laps (or, more accurately, in our inbox). This leads us to make snap judgements or rush into decisions in the heat of the moment, ones that we may come to regret later on. As businesses, we might launch a costly new initiative too soon in a race to be the ‘first mover’ in the market, or we’ll react to what competitors are doing in me-too follower fashion. Innovation is complex, and it requires a strategy to enable the best, most mission-worthy ideas to progress. With a clear, organisationally-shared strategy, we can pace ourselves to engage our brainpower and resources in activities that will help us achieve something we haven’t done before, or to find better ways of doing the things we do routinely.
2. Mix and match ideas
Recognise that ideas are social and like to mix with other ideas. CEO and founder of Heleo, Rufus Griscom, remarked: ‘Ideas are like people – they don’t like to be isolated or treated jealously. They like to mingle, interact with other ideas.’ The ability to make connections is accountable for the vast quantity of novel ideas across many fields. For instance, the revolutionary Smart car is the result of an unlikely marriage between premium car maker Mercedes-Benz and Swatch, the fashion watch brand. Mercedes’ precision engineering knowledge was partnered with the trendy design and microtechnology skills of Swatch to build a small, stylish car, perfectly suitable for city driving. This tip encourages you to take advantage of this kind of combinational creativity within your business. You’ve probably noticed when brainstorming that obvious, sensible ideas tend to come out first. These are likely to be ideas that feel ‘safe’ and quickly resonate with others in the group, but they won’t be special enough to make a mark in the world. Look at these initial insights as the starting point. As you continue to petition for more ideas from yourself and your teammates, observe how they get a lot more radical and ambitious – perhaps even outrageous. Don’t dismiss these non-sensible ideas out of hand as they hold the seeds of possibility for ‘wow’ factor innovation. Instead, take the sensible and non-sensible ideas you’ve generated and do a mashup. Randomly pair them with each other or with ideas already ‘out there’ to create something new. Even a dumb or absurd idea may have real-world value when linked with more practical elements. By connecting sensible and non-sensible ideas together, you form the basis for innovation that’s both functional and unexpected.
3. Analyse more
If you’ve been proactive with your creative strategy and have relished connecting insights in different ways, then you won’t be running short of ideas. This is great but presents a new challenge in itself – how do you go about selecting the cream of the crop to test out and scale up? Which ideas will make a tangible difference and which ones are likely just a fad? Good old analysis plays an indispensable part in the journey from idea to innovation. An organisational climate that encourages freewheeling of ideas and generative thinking is paramount, but also needs to be supplemented with an evaluative process that quickly sifts out the ideas that won’t work. Try this balanced approach for finding the best fit. First, screen an idea by examining it from the perspective of both your heart (what is my gut feeling on it?) and head (is it logical and practical?). Give it a rating out of 10 for each factor (heart and head) and add up your scores to get a total that combines both rational and intuitive thinking. Next, consider whether your idea is complete. Assess it by its pros and cons to get a big picture view of the data. This adds a qualitative element to deepen your evaluation, without leading you into ‘analysis paralysis’ territory. Follow this activity for all your shortlisted ideas and you’ll soon root out the golden nuggets that will help you stand out from the crowd.
4. Go beyond ideas
Lastly, commit to driving your best ideas forward. No matter how awesome an idea is, it isn’t an innovation until you make it happen. How you go about executing the idea is what will ultimately determine its success. If you’re hesitant, try it out first and see how it works. By prototyping or ‘live’ testing an idea, you might identify practical shortcomings or flaws you hadn’t thought of. You can then redevelop and de-risk it before committing yourself fully. A flexible task management tool like DropTask can assist you in breaking down and organising all the elements that need to be actioned.
Remember, no big idea is ever going to be 100% perfect…almost right will do. So, take a chance and help your company own the innovation game.
The Creative Thinking Handbook – Your Step-By-Step Guide to Problem Solving in Business by Chris Griffiths and Melina Costi is out now, published by Kogan Page, priced £14.99.