Today’s post is by Rowan Gibson, author of The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
Your company may have taken on innovation as a strategic priority or a corporate value, but what if you feel more comfortable improving execution than with being the creative leader of your team? Let’s face it: generating new ideas, recognizing those with breakthrough potential, and then mobilizing your team to drive those ideas from the mind to the market – often in the face of substantial risk and uncertainty – is not something every leader feels cut out to do. But in today’s value-based innovation economy, it’s precisely these leadership skills that need to be learned.
So let’s get started. Here are four proven ways to unlock the innovation power of your team and to generate the kinds of new products, services, strategies, and business models that have the potential to drive top line growth and perhaps even revolutionize your industry.
1. Challenge Orthodoxies
Remember, innovators are usually contrarians by nature. They are people who tend to question common assumptions and overturn conventional wisdom inside a company, or across a whole industry.
Recall how James Dyson fundamentally reinvented the vacuum cleaner by asking why it needed a bag, and why it couldn’t be a sexy design statement instead of the ugliest thing in your home. Or how Tesla’s Elon Musk reconceived the automobile by challenging the conventional wisdom of Detroit’s seasoned executives about the viability of electric cars. Just over a decade later, every car company—and even Apple, too —is asking itself how it can learn from Musk’s playbook.
So try to work with your team to identify and challenge some of the dogmas that represent the dominant thinking in your industry. What are the broadly-shared and deeply-held beliefs about the “right” way of doing things? What if you systematically challenge these assumptions? What new innovation opportunities might present themselves?
2. Harness Trends
Innovators are trend-riders. While many companies either underestimate or ignore critical trends and discontinuities until it’s too late to exploit them, innovators know how to use the power of change to their own advantage. They pay close attention to nascent developments that have the potential to profoundly impact the future of an industry, or that could be harnessed to substantially alter the rules of the game.
Consider Jeff Bezos, who saw the oncoming tsunami of e-commerce back in 1994, and rode that giant wave to great success with Amazon.com. Or Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, who realized that internet video streaming represented not just the future of the video rental business but the future of TV. Shifting his company’s whole business model from home DVD delivery to video on demand, Netflix has emerged as a winner, while Blockbuster Video has disappeared from the scene.
Ask your team members: in what fundamental ways will our industry change in the future? Will we be ready for these changes? Are we going to ride these waves of change, or will we will be washed away by them? Try to recognize patterns of change that could potentially open up huge new opportunities—if you act on them before others do.
3. Leverage Resources
Innovators never mentally pigeonhole a company in a particular market sector, or lock it up in a certain product or service category. Rather, they are able to stretch the way they define their business based on its collection of core competencies and strategic assets. Innovators believe that these embedded resources can always be repurposed, redeployed, or recombined to generate new growth opportunities, either adjacent to their current business or far beyond it.
As an example, take Richard Branson, who took Virgin’s unique set of skills and assets and leveraged them into a global conglomerate comprising more than 400 different companies in a multitude of diverse market sectors. Or P&G, which has stretched its Mr. Clean brand from cleaning liquids into Magic Erasers, mops, kitchen scrubbers, and a nationwide car wash franchise, and has extended its Tide brand from laundry detergent into fabric care products, clothes hangers, stain removers, and a chain of dry cleaners.
Ask your team to think of your company not in terms of what it is or what it does, but in terms of what it knows—its skills and unique capabilities—and what it owns—such as infrastructure, proprietary technologies, standards, patents, brands, customer data, and so on. What if you redeployed these core competencies and strategic assets in completely new ways, or in new contexts, to open up exciting new growth opportunities for your business?
4. Understand Needs
Innovators are empathizers. They are able look at things from the customer’s perspective, and to intuitively sense – to feel – the customer’s “pain points”. They have a knack for identifying and understanding unmet and perhaps unarticulated needs. And they set out to address these needs by designing innovative solutions from the customer backward.
Nobody asked Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers for a smart, friendly thermostat that could learn and adapt to our behaviors. The founders of Nest Labs simply set out to identify a common human frustration and then to solve it with an intelligent, cool appliance. Similarly, Gary and Diane Heavin, an entrepreneurial couple from Texas, recognized that traditional fitness clubs were not catering to the needs of women. So they decided to open Curves—a fitness franchise exclusively for women and managed by women. It became the fastest-growing franchise in history, and is now the largest fitness chain in the world.
How much do you and your team really know about your customers’ unsolved problems, unmet needs and wants? How deep are you digging in your search for important customer insights? And are you using these insights as the essential basis for imagining new offerings, new marketing strategies, new customer experiences, and new business models?
By deliberately using these four proven perspectives—aptly called “The Four Lenses of Innovation”—you will be able to effectively unlock the brainpower of your team and dramatically enhance its capacity for generating breakthrough ideas. Think of it as a great way to start becoming a more effective innovation leader.
– Rowan Gibson is “one of the most recognized thought leaders in business innovation” (Forbes). He is the author of three internationally bestselling books, including The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking (CLICK HERE to get your copy). He received the prestigious “Global Leader of Innovation” award in 2015, and is a top keynote speaker in 61 countries around the world. To connect with Rowan, visit www.rowangibson.com or find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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