Innovation is a hard thing to pin down. It starts with the word, Innovation which can mean different things to different people. If you are trying to bring people on a journey with you it’s essential that you leave no room for ambiguity – that you tell people clearly what it means for your organisation, how you are going to do it, what you expect to happen and how you are going to measure it. This is why I built the Strategic Innovation Canvas which aims to describe your innovation strategy on one piece of paper. Here is it. Please email me with comments or if you would like a blank version to download.
One of the common barriers to innovation lies in a belief held by most people that they “aren’t ideas people”. In truth, everyone’s an ideas person. Some of us certainly see more or less risk in offering ideas and some of us are more creative than others and above all some of us are more able to articulate ideas in a way that gets people excited than others, but fundamentally I firmly believe everyone’s an ideas person.
We learn some of those barriers as we get older so the 12 bricks game takes us back to our childhood by using LEGO bricks as the tools. There are literally millions of combinations and thousands of ideas that can be brought to life with just 12 bricks. Here’s the website I created to hopefully inspire you. 12bricks.co.uk
You can create ideas too. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet them to @just12bricks or share them on facebook.com/12bricks
Go on, what are you waiting for. Here are some of the creations all made with the same 12 bricks.
The term hack or hacking comes with some negative connotations, so first-off let’s get some clarity on what the term means in this sense. Hacking is the process to taking something that works and is functional, but then changing or enhancing it to either do the thing it was designed to do better or do another job.
Searching on #ideahack online will give you some spectacular examples of what can be achieved. A great example of hacking is the ikeahackers.net site which has literally thousands of ideas for turning an Ikea piece or pieces into something else. I so recommend going on this site and taking a look at some of the hacks. They are brilliant.
Idea Hacking (rather than ikea hacking) is a brilliant technique to get people creating ideas in a fun and stimulating way because you are not asking for brand new ideas, but ideas for new combinations, purposes and functions for an existing product. If the aim is to help people see how easy it is to get ideas flowing, this is a great tool.
An ideahack that works well as an example is to take the humble Mars bar – something that has lasted the test (or taste) of time and is incredibly simple. The first hack is to re-order the components – so rather than a nougat base with caramel on top then encased in chocolate you can quickly get to half a dozen combinations – my preferred option would be a chocolate base with a light nougat top encased in a brittle caramel.
We could then hack the format so rather than a bar, let’s put it through a roller and get a wide, thin bar, or even hack the bar into a biscuit or cake and again, the ideas will flow easily or even hack the solid format into a drink.
Then we could hack the utility so rather than it being a high calorie food item it becomes an energy gel – or even hack the idea that it’s something we consume and turn it into something completely different. Now, there’s a point at which I’m going to be pushing the Mars bar example a little too far, but stick with me here…you could hack the business model so perhaps rather than relying on a retail supply chain, could we hack it and make it special enough that we could sell it on a subscription model like some health supplements. We could even hack the pricing model – Mars bar are priced like most other chocolate bars on the shelf, what if we hack it to be the most expensive chocolate bar – the chocolate that we buy on a special occasion or take to a dinner party, what would that look like?
So you can see, when we take a simple technique (and this is just one of many) we can quickly and simply get to dozens and dozens or even hundreds of ideas. Brilliant Ideas #152-160 are exactly that and can be seen on this blog post.
You need to take this technique and run an idea hack at your organisation. Bring some of your products and, armed with this new tool invite people to hack them and see what happens!
This is a brilliant example of Innovation through subtraction.
This is Ryan McFarland who, like (hopefully) all Dads bought his Son a kids bike to learn to ride. His enthusiasm quickly turned to frustration as he watched his 2 year old “struggle with the weight and complexity of these so-called ‘children’s bikes”. So what did he do? He took away the pedals!
The genius isn’t the design – he’s actually massively simplified the design. The genius is that he dared to consider that he could improve something that has been around for centuries, and, while countless innovators have been busy improving the bike by adding features, Ryan had the audacity to subtract one (very important) feature – the pedals.
Innovation through subtraction can be applied to pretty anything – in this case a product but it could be a service or business model.
Take a moment to think about your organisation’s product or service. List all the things that it comprises then one by one, subtract each one and ask what the difference would be. Could subtraction;
– Change the customer experience in a positive way (would it be easier to use, more distinctive, more novel or fun)?
– Does it / could it help define a competitive advantage / act as a differentiator?
– Does it remove cost that will make you more money or allow you to be more competitive?
Another fantastic example of this is the restaurant chain Nandos. If you think about the normal customer journey at a restaurant; the customer is greeted, they are led to a table, given a menu of choices whilst drinks are ordered, the server takes you meal choices and takes it to kitchen where is joins a queue, a chef cooks the meal choices to the best of their abilities, a server brings your food when all of the meal choices have been cooked, you eat, the server takes the empty plates and gives you a bill.
The genius of Nandos is that they took that generic process and subtracted elements. The customer is greeted and shown to a table and given a menu, but you then queue to order at the kitchen so they have subtracted the need for a server to take your order. They then subtracted, to a great extent, choice meaning the chefs don’t need to think about cooking a range of things that have different cooking times, they just need to focuss on one thing and one thing only, cooking a stream of delicious chicken.
So if we go back to our checklist, does subtraction;
– Change the customer experience in a positive way? Firstly by removing the need for the server to take the order the customers go at their pace rather than the pace at which the server wants and by limiting the choice to chicken (for as long as the customer likes chicken) the customer gets brilliant food at a competitive price
– Does it / could it help define a competitive advantage / act as a differentiator? Yes. Not only is it fantastically popular and profitable, its ‘differentness’ makes for customer loyalty that is, in my opinion unrivalled amongst other multiples in the UK
– Does it remove cost that will make you more money or allow you to be more competitive? Yes. It’s much more competitively priced
If you want some help applying this approach to your organisation, contact me.
So, I am about to publish Brilliant Idea #290, but why do I share my ideas?. What do I hope to achieve by sharing my ideas? Why would I publish any more ideas? Here are 4 reasons why I (and you) should share your ideas.
1. All things are difficult before they become easy (Thomas Fuller). Sharing ideas is difficult. It requires you to discard a very natural instinct which is to protect and cosset something that is valuable and dear to you. Like many natural and instinctive behaviors, it’s actually very narcissistic and unhealthy. The more you do it, the easier it becomes so go on, start to share them.
2. While you can invent on your own, you can’t innovate on your own. Innovation needs a crowd and when you share good ideas, a crowd will gather and the more that crowd invests in supporting and shaping the idea , the greater the odds of it gaining momentum and ultimately happening.
3. The idea is the first and easiest step. Innovation is all about the execution and if you can take one of my ideas and execute, good luck to you. Can have all of my ideas!
4. People are significantly more likely to share their ideas with you. (but read my essential guide to listening to ideas here)
I know I said 4 reasons, but there is a 5th, and that’s that ideas are fun and energising. You’ll never be short of things to talk about at dinner parties or down the pub 😉
Because I share my ideas freely, one result is that people share their ideas freely with me which is both flattering as well as somewhat of a burden because when someone enthusiastically shares their idea with you they want you to respond enthusiastically and of course sometimes that’s hard to do.
Here my five essential rules for listening to ideas. If you are planning on hosting an idea event, or as some of the organisations that I have worked with have done set-up an innovation room, you would do well to share these ground rules before you start any ideation session.
1. ALL brilliant ideas started life sounding stupid. The more nonsensical it might first appear, the more brilliant it might be! You can make them feel stupid by firing reasons why the idea won’t work and no-one wants (or deserves) that.
2. Don’t judge quickly. You can kill ideas faster than most people can generate them by the way you respond both verbally and non-verbally. A confused look, an off the cuff joke – all of these things can crush people’s willingness to share. And remember, All brilliant ideas started life sounding stupid!
3. The punchline doesn’t make sense without the joke. Although we wouldn’t tell the punchline before the joke, quite often we share the idea and assume people understand the problem it solves. The easiest thing you can say when someone tells you their idea therefore is “ok, how did you come up with that”. This gives people the opportunity to describe the process that led to the idea and ultimately the problem it solves.
4. The “yes, and” principle. One of the best techniques I have come across is the “yes, and” principle. It’s blindingly simple and is a mirror image of the people we don’t like when we share our ideas – the “no, because” people.
5. Never ever, ever ignore or fail to acknowledge someone’s idea. It feels awful when it happens to you. Don’t do it to someone else.