These days there’s a lot of talk about the need to be more creative and innovative. Whether you’re an established brand facing the precipice of digital transformation, or a new venture looking to fend off the next competitor, the mantra remains the same: iterate and innovate or face the prospect of existential doom.
But, while words of wisdom - from Silicon Valley to Silicon Round About - urge us to find Blue Ocean’s and morph as often as Madonna, there are far fewer voices that tell us how to come up with creative and innovative ideas.
So, here are five ways to ignite creative thinking within your organisation.
1) Get your house in order
While coming up with creative ideas might seem like the perfect opportunity to raid the stationery cupboard, before you begin, it is vital to set the right environment. There’s nothing worse than spending tireless hours creating ideas, only for management to belittle efforts as little more than an exercise in team bonding.
Worse still, company employees might set out with the best of intentions, but without a clear sense of direction, you might be surprised by how difficult it is to actually "be creative" on demand. This is particularly the case, when divergent thinking can be completely at odds with what usually goes on during your typical 9-5 day.
If your company is to really progress with creative and innovative thinking, real-world company backing and clear processes need to be in place from the get-go. So, first and foremost embed a culture of creativity within your company:
- Put creativity and innovation in your company’s mission statement (big global players like P&G do exactly that) and really incentivise people (yes with money, or awards, or acclaim) to want to be part of it
- Set up innovation areas within your building or outside of it, to empower people to think outside of the normal day-to-day hierarchies and to set the right scene
- Ensure groups are diverse in make-up, and cultivate safe, open environments that everyone, no matter their role or personality type, feels at liberty to have a voice and genuinely wants to contribute
2) Unmet needs
Now to get some inspiration... If you have close relationships with your customers, interview them, observe them interacting with your services or products, do whatever you can to discover their pain points and identify unmet needs across your service or product lines. If all you have is access to surveys and customer feedback forms, then insights can be drawn from those too.
“Necessity is the mother of all invention”, so if you’re able to understand what you are missing, directly from your customers, new ways of thinking can be inspired by the very people that keep you in business.
There are a number of ways to approach brainstorming, but one of the most effective is to produce a high volume of ideas, then narrow-down and narrow-down again, until you’ve collectively decided on a worthwhile set of concepts to move forward with. The important thing here is to begin the process by embracing as many ideas as possible. That way, you can maximise the potential of every team members’ contribution, no matter how extroverted or introverted they may be.
4) Trend mapping
Many of the most successful companies in the world continue to grow, not because they have a differentiated brand and mass appeal, but because they are attuned to current and emerging trends.
The rise of Netflix may not have happened had it not been for the prevailing appetite for internet purchases and multi device households. EasyJet’s rise as the go-to short-haul flight brand, tapped in to the trend for lower cost, easy travel and the rise of an increasingly globally minded consumer.
Trends, if they are true trends, shouldn't be hard to identify. At the time of writing, sugar and plastic are trending for all the wrong reasons. They're bad for our health and bad for the environment. At the same time, healthy living and keeping fit is fast becoming mainstream. So, it will be little surprise if many of the new food and snack brands we see on our shelves, contain less sugar, less harmful packaging and include healthier ingredients.
Trends inspire innovation, they reflect our culture and they shape our buying behaviours. So, mapping them is an ideal way to generate and assess ideas.
5) Outside-in inspiration
The outside-in approach to ideating is the younger, smarter sister of trend mapping. While understanding trends can give you a good springboard for creativity, understanding where your competitors have had success with their new products or services can also be a great place for inspiration.
"First-mover advantage" is often seen as the essential condition for launching a successful new platforms into the world. Yet, there remains a compelling case for being the next one in line. By getting an outside-in view of your industry, understanding what your competitors are doing, and where they are winning market share, you can unlock key insights and shape your thinking around what is already working within your industry.
Simply doing things better, cheaper or differently, you can spring board off of the success of others. After all, without MySpace where would YouTube be? Without Yahoo would Google even exist?