How to Generate Innovative Ideas Technique:Mining Your Own Business
Overview:Sometimes your employees can be your greatest source of innovation and inspiration

That’s right! Mining (not “minding”) your own business…

Your employees might be a goldmine. If you’re taking your first steps in setting up an innovation program in your company, consider using this technique for generating new ideas. This can be a low-cost and fast way to generate innovative concepts for your business. Here’s a situation where this technique worked well.

Innovate or Die

Newpoint was a small consumer electronics company that made surge protectors and uninterruptible power supplies.

The customers of Newpoint were the largest consumer electronics retailers in the US. The retailers liked Newpoint’s products and appreciated the company’s service (timely delivery of good quality products at prices that allowed the retailers to make their target profit margins). But the buyers repeatedly told Newpoint that they needed to add SKUs to their line or they would be dropped as a vendor. Buyers at big box retailers prefer to have a few suppliers who offer a broad range of merchandise rather than many suppliers who offer only a few SKUs each.

Newpoint had been attempting to innovate for more than a year – without success. They had an innovation logjam that seemed intractable. And if they didn’t innovate, they were almost certainly going to lose every one of their major accounts.

When Newpoint contacted Clint, they had a very short fuse burning. It really was a case of “innovate or die”.

Clint interviewed key personnel in the company to find out how they had been trying to innovate and why they hadn’t succeeded to date. He had to come up with an innovation strategy that would generate some viable ideas very quickly and that would break the logjam that was plaguing Newpoint.

The interviews identified two problems in the innovation process that were the root of the logjam:

  1. Newpoint lacked a good process for generating new product ideas. This is critical; you can’t develop new products if you don’t have new ideas. And the more product ideas you have to choose from, the better your chances of finding a winning concept in the pool of ideas.
  2. The process for vetting and approving new product proposals made it almost impossible for a new product idea to be approved. Vetoes were easy; approvals were difficult.

Clint developed a two-point strategy to solve these problems.

  1. There are a lot of ways to generate new product ideas; Newpoint needed a method that was simple, straightforward and fast – active solicitation of ideas from every employee of the company. The dearth of new ideas was overcome swiftly. Within two weeks, the company had a pool of almost three hundred ideas for new products. The idea pool had gone from empty to overflowing.
  2. To break the approval logjam, Clint introduced a modified Delphi technique that utilizes group input to reach a consensus on the best ideas. This technique prevented any one individual from having veto power. The Delphi technique was applied in a series of meetings with 6 to 8 employees at each meeting. Representatives of every department in the company were present at each meeting to assure broad input when evaluating the new product ideas.

Eight weeks after the start of the project the company had a list of five “hot product” families to start developing and about twenty runner-up ideas waiting in queue. The 250+ other ideas were not forgotten – there was a procedure to make sure that product ideas with potential did not get swept under the rug. And new product ideas continued to flow in at a steady pace.

The final phase of implementation was to actually develop the products. Clint worked with the CEO to hire a VP of Product Development. The VP was brought on board, was mentored in Newpoint’s innovation processes, and was then given the reins and told to run. At the next Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (less than eight months later) the company had two new product categories to show to buyers, and two more product categories under development that they could start pre-selling.

This is an example of how a stagnant product development program can be revitalized quickly and inexpensively. There are many approaches to innovating. This is just one example. If your product development program feels like it’s stagnating, please call or email Clint to see if he can help you.