What Your Company Can Do To Cook Up New Ideas

Most companies recognize that innovation and creativity are vital to their survival, but they don’t know how to plan projects that will bring the quantum leaps they’re looking for.

Design specialist Heather M. A. Fraser, in her book Design Works (Rotman-UTP Publishing), describes three essentials every business needs to generate productive innovation:

To create products or improve services, you need to understand what your customers (or even your employees) want.

They won’t always tell you; sometimes they don’t know themselves. That means you’ve got to develop your knowledge from the inside out.

Learn everything you can about their business needs, their personal goals, their failures, and their successes, regardless of whether any of those data seem to apply to your areas of expertise at first.

What you collect can lead your organization’s imagination in unexpected directions. Before the introduction of the iPod, for example, few people realized they wanted “a thousand songs in their pocket.”

Take what you’ve learned and add it to what your organization can do.

Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, in practical terms but without limiting yourself to what’s easy or what you’ve done before. Combine ideas and concepts that don’t obviously go together, and look for ways to maximize your strengths—always with an eye on what your customers really want.

This is where innovation can bog down unless you’re careful to select ideas that fit with your overall business objectives and strategy. Some companies pursue too many promising ideas at once, never perfecting any of them. Others design a great new product that doesn’t apply to their market and that they don’t know how to sell.

Be creative, but be rigorous in your analysis of what the market needs and what you’re capable of delivering. Then get to work.