3 Innovation Thought-Starters

If you really want to challenge thinking and promote new ideas, get in the habit of asking “Why” and “What If” more often.

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We’ve all been there.  Nothing pops the balloon of creativity and enthusiasm faster than hearing some version of these dreaded words:  “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Of course it’s infuriating.  More importantly, most of the time the result is a stifling of idea generation and the development of the “I’ll just keep that to myself” way of doing things.  The next time you’re in that situation, try to respond with Why or What If.

Here are three ideas that can help overcome the “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome, and better yet, foster a forward-looking, innovative culture and mindset.

1.  Break Paradigms

The Arms Room, a gun store, shooting range and firearms school, is adjacent to more traditional shopping center tenants. Photo: Houston Chronicle.

Who says shopping centers are only for clothing retailers and home improvement centers?  A recent business article explained how mall operators are expanding their range of possibilities for tenant acquisition.  Examples include a gun range, aquarium, indoor go-cart track, fencing academy, swimming lesson center and more.  In Springfield, Illinois, the major mall let a local church convert a cinema into an iWorship religious center.

While the difficult economy may be a major reason for opening the door to non-traditional tenants, the view is that productive space is better than empty space.  However, even top-performing mall operators are exploring atypical, creative uses for their retail inventory.  What paradigms can you break in your business?

2.  Activate Your Company and Team

PricewaterhouseCoopers launched a terrific innovation contest called PowerPitch to help identify $100 million business opportunities.

PwC chairman Bob Moritz with the winners of PowerPitch. Photo: Fortune Magazine.

There are a variety of new product innovation processes, especially funnel/gate systems, and many yield positive results.  The key is finding what works for your unique situation.  However, they’re not especially fun and don’t usually generate the excitement to captivate a workforce.  That’s why the PwC approach is so cool and potentially lucrative to both the company and employees.  PowerPitch builds off the world of contests, games and the American Idol culture to create a distinctly different corporate enterprise.  PwC offered $100,000 to the winning team plus the chance to implement the idea.  In the end, the results were so great that the company also awarded $25,000 each to the four runner-up teams; and gave each of the 20 semifinalist teams that didn’t make it to the final round a check for $5,0o0.  How can you make your innovation process more exciting and participative?

3.  Build Confidence and Encourage Creativity

David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (d.school), was profiled in The Wall Street Journal last month by Carolyn Geer, who remarked that “Mr. Kelley has made it his life’s work to help people regain their creative confidence.”  Why?  Geer explained that “Mr. Kelley . . .  believes—and research suggests—that virtually everyone has the capacity to innovate. It’s just that somewhere around the fourth grade most of us stop thinking of ourselves as creative, he says, so our ability to innovate atrophies.”  Geer notes that the Stanford nondegree program “aims to help students unlock their creative potential by teaching them to become, among other things, more open to experimentation, more comfortable with ambiguity and less afraid of failure.”  What are you doing to inculcate that mindset at your company?

Headline For Marketers

Innovation isn’t easy, but you, personally, can make a difference when it comes to fostering the conditions for innovation within your team and at your company.  Lead by example and encourage the asking of Why and What If.  Embrace a culture and way of doing business that positively and productively challenges thinking with the goal of building on and making ideas better.  Ensure a safe runway for colleagues and team members to explore new ideas, and to think and act towards achieving business growth.  And, at least sometimes, be willing to see where “coloring outside the lines” takes you.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.

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