It was Henry Ford apparently who said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. Yet for many of us, when it comes to our business and especially marketing, ideas fall into the trap of doing the same things over and over and wondering why we don’t see a difference in results.
As business people we are trained, whether formally or through experience, to keep a focus on systems and procedures, to not rock the boat, to encourage our staff to knuckle down and focus on the job in hand. When it comes to new ideas we often struggle to find space and time to come up with them or give them the freedom they need to grow and flourish.
At first new ideas and fresh thinking can appear absurd – ‘carry my entire music library around in my pocket, don’t be ridiculous!’ Or even frightening – the advent of music sharing sites and downloads certainly had the music industry concerned. But in our businesses, we need to make space for new ideas and challenge the status quo to improve our chances of standing out from the crowd, attracting new business and continuing to satisfy our existing clients.
Innovation isn’t just for product based businesses or fast-moving consumer goods, it doesn’t have to be just about new products. It can be about new ways of pricing or charging for your services. Think about the innovation needed in professional services for fixed fees and guarantee based pricing. It can be about improvements to client service, things that will get clients talking and encourage more recommendations. It might be about ways of reducing costs in your business, so that these savings can be passed directly back to the client by way of special offers or pass straight to the bottom line to directly improve profit.
Improve your chances of success with innovation
When it comes to innovation it is really important to follow three very distinct steps – miss them and you’ll ruin your chances of success.
Step 1 – Encourage a little craziness
Be creative. This stage is all about quantity over quality. The more ideas you can generate the better chance you have of coming up with a great innovation and really pushing the boundaries of your profession. It’s at this point where you want to use classic brainstorming techniques, involve as many people as you can and be open to absolutely everything.
Creating new ideas can be great fun and really energising for the people in your business.
Why not have a crazy ideas day once a quarter? Provide a focus, perhaps ask a question ‘How can we cut costs?’, ‘How can we get more referrals?’, or set an objective – crazy ideas to get more, high value clients or crazy ideas to raise our profile with business leaders.
Step 2 –Calm it down and evaluate
At some point you will need to stop the idea generation process and start to consider the ideas you have, and which ones are worth pursuing. The most important thing for effective innovation however is not to evaluate too soon. It’s all too easy to stifle the best germ of an idea saying, ‘that’ll never work’ or ‘the boss will never agree to that’.
If we evaluate too soon there’s a real danger we say no before we’ve fully thought about (or sometimes even understood the idea). We say no out of fear – change after all is difficult and challenging. Or as the expert in our field we close our mind to a naïve idea because we should know best.
Step 3 – Make it happen
Implementation is just as important as creation and evaluation but surprisingly, this is where many great ideas fall down. They never quite reach the implementation stage – everyone agrees it’s a great idea but there’s no plan to make it happen.
Use simple project management techniques, set up a team, establish goals and milestones and monitor progress. If it’s your business but you’re not part of the project team ask for regular progress reports, show the project team that you see the new idea as important and reward those involved.
Don’t give up. Change is difficult, but the rewards can be significant.
Use your kids
Still struggling to contemplate how you can encourage innovation and new ideas in your business? Maybe your ideas will come from a direction you least expect – your children for example:
Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up
because they are looking for ideas.
Reward crazy ideas
At the very least say thanks and give them airtime. For ideas that go through to full implementation you might reward the person who came up with the idea more formally with a cash reward or some other form of recognition. I’d certainly consider involving them in the implementation process.
To foster a spirit of innovation you need to be open to new ideas. Instead of saying that won’t work ask how could we make it work, or better still what advantage could we get if we were to make it work. Once you’ve seen the benefit you might be more willing to work on it and overcome the obstacles.
If the culture in your business is one of fun, openness and a little craziness you are far more likely to generate ideas that will really set you apart from the competition.