Every organization wants to be thought of as “innovative,” but simply asking your employees to think outside of the box is unlikely to be enough to drive those game-changing ideas.
To get unique solutions, you need to look at things in new light, says Lisa Bodell, founder and CEO of futurethink (futurethink.com), an internationally recognized innovation research and training firm. She recently shared seven strategies for leaders to take an outside-in approach to innovation with InnovationManagement.se, a European-based consultant (InnovationManagement.se).
Kill your own company. To get to the most radical ideas, sometimes you have to put yourself in the mindset of competitors. Ask your staff, “What would competitors need to do today to put us out of business?” Work as a team to identify the biggest threats and prioritize change initiatives. This tool will not only bring your vulnerabilities to light, it promotes a proactive approach to staying competitive in the industry.
Include “haters” of your product in your brainstorms. Ask non-customers why they don’t do business with you. Intentionally including people who dislike your product or services in a focus group can lead to more provocative conversations. Better yet, have naysayers sit in on internal planning meetings to share their thoughts on how product enhancements could affect their perception of your company.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Gaining an outside-in perspective that might identify shortcomings can be a lighthearted conversation, rather than a serious one. Take a cue from Comedy Central’s celebrity roasts. Do you sell something that’s desperately in need of a modern makeover? Roast it. Do you have a product that doesn’t work as well as it should? Roast it. The goal of this exercise is to see your products objectively like your customers do; flaws and all. This is an opportunity for your staff to say what everyone in the room and all of your customers have probably already been thinking. You’ll get a good laugh, but more importantly, identify opportunities for innovation.
Go from pain to gain. Think about your customers’ pain points when it comes to working with your organization and its products or services. Once you identify the low points, you can start brainstorming on how to make them selling points and key differentiators in the market.
Figure out what your customers do all day. What do your customers think about in the morning when they wake up? What are their high and low points throughout the day? What really makes them tick? Try giving your customers a diary for them to record what a day in the life is like. This will help you understand unmet needs.
Copy good ideas from different industries. Henry Ford got the idea for assembly line production for manufacturing cars from visiting slaughter houses that used a similar technique. Cattle and cars don’t seem to have much in common on the surface, but the strategy for efficiently delivering a final product to consumers is a great fit for both industries. What industries could provide radical change ideas for your company?
Evolve beyond obvious partnerships. A quick win for improving innovation is to partner with other organizations that could add value to your business. The key for promoting change is to get creative in how you think about the types of partnerships that could be beneficial.
“To get outside of the box ideas, you need to look at things in new light,” Bodell says. “Use these tactics to force yourself to think in someone else’s shoes — your competitors, customers, other industries — to arrive at ideas you may not have thought of before.”