Turning Ideas Into Action

Last Updated Nov 4, 2008 10:42 AM EST

Strategic breakthroughs occur when an organisation exploits a change in the market. The current economic turbulence is creating market changes for most businesses. Consequently, despite the difficulties in immediate trading, your organisation also faces great opportunities if you know how to spot and exploit them.

Trying to sit tight and do what you've always done, but at lower cost, is unlikely to be a recipe for short- or long-term success. Your customers (and non-customers) are likely to have different needs to those they had 12 months ago.

Innovation has never been more important. It can help your business survive and even thrive as we pass through the coming recession.

The building blocks of innovation are ideas. Taking the time to generate new ideas -- whether for new product development, better IT project management or lower-cost HR support -- always delivers a great 'return on effort' if it is carried out with a robust approach.

Over the summer, for example, I worked with Jo, a product brand manager, to turn the taps back onto an arid new product pipeline. We established a short, focused work programme based on three core principles that may apply in your business:

  1. Establish a diverse team. Diversity encourages a mix of ideas and the creative tension that is vital to success. For Jo, we involved the product development managers, buyers, marketing managers and sales teams. We also invited finance, an external expert and a trusted supplier onto the team.
  2. Look at the question through a variety of angles. I helped Jo and her team to generate ideas based on
    • (a) how other non-related companies might approach the issue (we used Boeing and BMW, among others)
    • (b) how they could kill the core assumptions of the category -- why is the product made of that material? Why is it odourless? Why is it consumed at home?
    • (c) how they could make stronger links between their new products and key lifestyle trends, such as social networking.
  3. Engage customers early. At the end of a full day's workshop we held two customer group sessions. These provided immediate customer feedback on the group's initial thinking. And they encouraged the team to create prototypes -- pictures, diagrams or small, simple models -- in order to shape their thinking and share their ideas more easily.
These three principles -- a diverse team, using a variety of angles and early customer engagement -- helped Jo and her team generate over 100 ideas and identify 12 major new products for further development, three of which will be brought to the market within six months.

Where does your business need new ideas right now? Share your thoughts and successes below.

  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.