Beyond the Brainstorm

Beyond the BrainstormHere is a brief excerpt from an article by Lisa Bodell for strategy+business, published by strategy&, formerly Booz & Company. She challenges conventional wisdom as to how and where the most promising ideas are generated. To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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The notion that the best ideas come from organized brainstorms is an outdated fallacy. Ask leaders how they come up with their groundbreaking ideas and you’ll hear everything from “in the shower” or “at the gym” to “looking totally outside of our industry” and “getting out of the office and meeting someone new.” The common thread is that inspiration strikes people in different ways at different, and often unexpected, times.

As the CEO of an innovation-training firm, futurethink, I’ve worked with thousands of business leaders, and I can unequivocally say that it’s possible to unleash creativity with purpose—and without constraints—in an office context.

“It’s possible to unleash creativity with purpose—and without constraints—in an office context.”

Companies like BMW, Kraft, P&G, Airbnb, and Novartis frequently go beyond standard brainstorming sessions and use a range of techniques to develop new ideas. These innovative companies take a methodical yet varied set of approaches to ideation, which can be categorized in the following five ways:

• Forward thinking
• Incremental thinking
• Customer-centric thinking
• Disruptive thinking
• Collaborative thinking

Consider these five approaches and the corresponding 15 tactics below to get better ideas in your innovation pipeline.

Forward thinking enables you to forecast the future, anticipate opportunities, and leverage tomorrow’s trends.

[Here are the first five of 15 tactics.]

1. Follow fringe blogs. Tap into the opinions of underground communities before their viewpoints enter the mainstream. Use blogsearch.google.com to identify blogs relevant to your industry and organization, and utilize their RSS function so you receive blog updates right to your inbox.

2. Hire a tech scout. BMW has recruited idea scouts from Silicon Valley, Japan, and Europe to report on new research and trends from their respective markets. Scouts use an intranet database to distribute findings to all BMW managers, which drives innovative thinking. If your organization has the budget, hiring a scout to identify emerging trends will help propel your brand into the future and stay ahead of the competition.

3. Define a “Top 10 Trends” list. Examine the fundamental driving forces that will likely affect your organization in the following STEEP categories: social, technological, economic, environmental, and political. Distribute this annual list to key individuals in your organization, and generate forward-thinking strategies based on it.

Incremental thinking keeps complacency at bay with ongoing improvements to even your most successful solutions.

4. Map out your purchase experience. Go undercover as a consumer of your own product or service and experience the customer’s purchase process firsthand. What were the shortcomings? Which steps could be streamlined or removed? What can you improve to exceed customer expectations?

5. Audit your competition and identify improvements. Interact with your competitors via in-store and online channels. Get on their mailing lists and call their customer service line. Buy their products—and experience their return process. Where are their strengths and weaknesses? What can your organization do better?

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Innovation is certainly about great ideas. It’s also about the capability to continuously generate great ideas—and compelling people to look around, think, and connect. Once you’ve baked this capability into your organization’s DNA, you’ll find that responding to customer needs, outpacing competitors, and introducing groundbreaking innovation becomes an organic part of how you do business.

For more idea-generation tips, email us here and ask for our list of “27 Tactics for Brilliant Ideas.”

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BodellLisaLisa Bodell is the founder and CEO of futurethink and author of Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution. To check out my review of Kill the Company, please click here.

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