When you’re brainstorming a new product or campaign, who do you invite to the session? Is it the bright-eyed social media specialist or the silver-haired director? For the majority of us, we default to our more tenured co-workers. There are plenty of times when their deep experience will steer us down the right course, but when the task is innovation, it’s more likely to hamstring us.
With tenure comes the bite of past failures, customer feedback and reprimands from the boss. Like a horse wearing blinders, it creates a proximity to the organization that keeps people looking in one direction for success. If you’re looking for the next breakthrough idea, it’s not going to be sitting where you found it before. It’s going to come from the fringes.
Great ideas can come from anywhere, but most of them turn up on the edge. The places that are restless and resourceful. The places that don’t understand “can’t be done.”
– Kevin Roberts, Lovemarks
Here are three strategies for creating the distance you need to innovate.
1. Suppress your rational mind
Turn off the voice that says, “That will never work.” Innovation should drive execution – not the other way around. Over the years, I’ve seen clients reject hundreds of incredible ideas because they doubt their ability to bring it to life.
If you’re losing market share and competitors are circling, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Let someone else worry about the execution side later. Your only job right now is to come up with an undeniably great idea.
Try this: suppress your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex for a few hours. If you’re a morning person, brainstorm the challenge at night, when your reasoning brain is tired. If you’re a night owl, get up early, grab a notebook and jot down every idea you can think of before your first cup of coffee.
2. Find innovators in other departments
A person doesn’t need to work in your department to contribute to innovative thinking. In fact, bringing together a wide variety of skillsets and backgrounds is one the most effective ways to generate new ideas. Each person has a life outside the walls of the business, and their hobbies will crossover to spur to ideas.
In her book Art Thinking, Amy Whitaker tells the story of Thomas Fogarty – a rebellious teen who would skip school to go fly fishing in the 60s. Fogarty worked at a hospital and was tasked by a surgeon to find a new way to remove blood clots. He invented the first balloon catheter and was only able to make it work because of his skill with tying knots in fishing line.
There’s a Thomas Fogarty somewhere in your organization. Here are a few tips for holding a successful brainstorm with a motley crew of rebels:
- Schedule a series of meetings with diverse group of four people
- Circulate information on the challenge and objective
- Ask everyone to come to the meeting with three ideas
- In the meeting, swap ideas – you now have three ideas from others
- Leave the meeting, and expand on all of the ideas
- Continue meeting and swapping until the challenge is solved
3. Steal from other industries
In this digital age, I often wonder why I can’t schedule doctor’s appointments online. Service gaps that are painfully obvious to us are often invisible to the people working in that industry. It took an analyst for RBC Capital Markets in London to conceive Skip the Dishes – what I consider to be the greatest innovation to come to food delivery in Canada.
Look to other industries to see how they’re innovating. Can you bring any of those techniques to your organization? Pick a company that’s been classified as a disruptor or innovator in their industry. Then type the following into Google: “How Under Armor took over industry.”
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – you just need to find something brilliant to steal that will be new to your industry.
What are your strategies for creating distance from a challenge so you can see the new opportunities at the fringes? We want to hear how it’s helped you innovate.