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Managing Faced with a creative challenge? Try these idea generation techniques

Just because something is new to your organization, doesn’t mean it’s an innovation. For this to be true, it must be something new to the world, and above all else, meaningfully unique.

Meaningfully unique is the difference between something that’s ‘cool’ and something that is truly innovative; that is, it delivers quantifiable value to the customer and can change his or her behaviour as a result.

These types of innovations are so unlike anything else available in the market that they can and should be patented. While many companies, especially in Canada, don’t think about a patent when it comes to innovation, that’s likely due to the fact that they are not true innovations. For an example of such an innovation, we can look to the Ford Kuga Hands Free Boot Opening. This innovation is both meaningful to the customer and is unique to the world.

There are different techniques that can spark new ideas that will help lead a team in developing a ‘meaningfully uniqu’e innovation. There is no one technique that works the best, all should be approached as a source of stimulus that drives new thoughts and ideas.

1. Mining. This is a way to fill the brain with information so a team has more stimulus to work with as they create new ideas for innovations. Patent mining, for example, leverages patents as blueprints to help idea generation. While it takes some time to find and understand them, once you learn how, they can be a gold mine.

Becoming familiar with Google Patents is a great place to get started. Let’s say you had to come up with an idea for a new kind of pillow. You could begin by searching a patent database for different types of pillows to spark new ideas. After a simple search you will get numerous ideas for different shaped pillows like the Side Sleeper Pillow for Surgery or pillows made with different materials such as the Down Feather Memory Foam Pillow.

Using mining as a spark for your own meaningfully unique ideas.


2. Mind-mapping
. If a company was looking into ideas for a new type of barbecue business, for example, chances are they would take the classic approach of creating a simple list. This linear method is extremely ineffective and doesn’t help drive new thinking.

To begin mind mapping we start with the core; in this case it’s a new type of barbecue business. To get things rolling we will use four points of stimulation - two sources of stimulus related to barbecues, occasions and types of customers, and two sources of stimulus unrelated to barbecues, smart phones and rock and roll.

Next we begin to generate ideas by asking, “what do we think of when think smart phones” and write them out. In this case we thought of alerts, buzz, online, and many others.

Once all thoughts have been written out, we begin to associate different points to one another to drive new ideas. For example, we associated alerts, buzz, college kids, and night together and used those points to create an idea to develop a barbecue-delivery truck that takes orders through an app on your phone and then delivers a barbecue to you at any time.

While that may not be meaningfully unique, as it was just a quick example, you can see how this approach forces a team to create more ideas as opposed to just a standard list. Mind mapping can really help teams process stimulus, see connections, and think deeper about a specific focal point.

3. Corporate takeover. Another way to generate meaningfully unique ideas is to imagine that your organization was taken over by another company – in this case Virgin Airlines.

The idea is to think about what the company is known for and what they do better than anyone else. With those stimulation points in mind, apply them to your company.

Virgin Airlines is known for impeccable service, a chic-modern look, and unique flight features such as infinity mood lighting and a Wander Wall where passengers are free to stand out of the way to stretch or chat while flying.

Now it may not be practical to have a Wander Wall or infinity lighting in your business but what other ideas spur from using Virgin Airlines as stimulus for new thinking? You’re also not limited to Virgin Airlines, what would a takeover by Starbucks, McDonald's, or even Harley Davidson do for your organization?

My challenge to you this month is to explore the idea of using these different techniques to stimulate you and your team to create better ideas.

Ryan Caligiuri is an associate and innovation engineering practitioner with inVision Business Edge. Caligiuri is also the founder of The Growth Network, a program that provides sales/marketing resources & training to help grow professional services firms.

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