Innovation is something we know we all need as part of our overall business plan to keep one step ahead of our competitors. We talk about it, we want it to happen, and we wish for it. But then reality creeps in with the fear of risks and failure and we often stay with the predictable known choice.
1. Think Like A Designer. Innovation involves creating new options. This is where designers excel. Design thinking is focused on a solution and is action-oriented. Start the process by asking what are the unmeet needs of the stakeholders so you can develop criteria for brainstorming ideas. Next, ask “What If?” turning your broad ideas into specific concepts. Select the concepts that have the “knock your socks off” factor, and give them a “reality check” to see if they will work in the real world.
2. Develop a Licensing Strategy. Test the waters by licensing your intellectual property to someone else that is already established in the area you want to explore. Employing a licensing strategy as an element of your innovation plan can not only shift the risk and cost of launching a new product, category or geographic region to the licensee, but it can also provide valuable insight into your brand’s elasticity and overall acceptance. If the licensing is successful, you have the option of continuing to enjoy a stream of royalty income or bringing the program in-house at the end of the licensing term.
3. Use the Best Ideas, From Whatever Source. Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce, No. 1 on Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies list for the last 3 years, has said, “We’ll take innovation any way you can give it to us. … I don’t care if it’s my idea, an employee’s idea, a competitor’s idea, a partner’s idea or some other associate’s idea.” The most innovative companies don’t always build or develop new products themselves – they look outside, find what exists, and then go from there.
4. A View from the Outside. Knowing that insular thinking will quash the open-minded exploration needed to truly be innovative, utilize a “thought leader” panel comprised of respected outsiders to work with your team. These thought leaders can explore, speculate, and collaborate with your innovators to forward ideas, bring fresh perspectives and lend expertise. These sessions can deliver strategic and practical insights that might otherwise take months to gather.
Don’t be afraid to be the leader when it comes to innovation. Yes, there are risks and small failures are inevitable, but missing out on your next big opportunity could be HUGE. Bottom line – it’s how you respond to the losses and move on that will define your success.