How do big ideas take off? Landor’s Luc Speisser lists five principles that allow creativity to flourish
Disruption is the new normal – the collision of the digital with the physical world has resulted in the complete overhaul of many industries. Think of Zipcar, Uber and Airbnb in the car rental, taxi and hotel markets. Who could have predicted their rapid rise or the impact they have had on traditional business models?
The brands that succeed in this climate will view disruption as an opportunity for reinvention rather than a threat. There are no hard-and-fast rules for companies looking to innovate, but the following principles will help create the space required for big ideas to flourish:
Frame the question, not the answer
An innovative company will obsess over a problem before looking for a solution. As a Frenchman, this approach comes naturally to me. The French find fault everywhere; we are a nation for whom the glass is always half-empty. Paradoxically, businesses should approach every project in the same way. They should spend as much time as possible exploring and defining a problem before considering how to resolve it. A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.
Ideas don’t have a schedule
Where do you have your best ideas? It might be when playing with your children, or taking a walk or a bath, but for most of us it’s unlikely to be in front of our desk. As such, business owners should allow and encourage staff the freedom to think. Brief them on the problem at hand then give them space to ruminate on the solution (and wherever they are at their most creative). You might be surprised by the results.
Staff members will show creativity in different ways; recognise this
Brainstorming sessions can help spark lateral thoughts, helping staff respond to and develop new ideas. But it tends to be the most spontaneous and extroverted staff members who contribute most during these sessions leaving the quieter, more reflective types in the shade. Introverts are no less creative but may feel inhibited by the group dynamic. One way of encouraging equal contribution is to ask all staff to come up with ideas before the sessions and bring them along. That way everyone is involved, and brainstorming can be used to help build on or develop these initial ideas. Group sessions are more effective and inclusive when conducted in this way.
Don’t underestimate the importance of brand
A strong, well-defined brand is the key to innovative success. It will help staff articulate the problems and solutions, and inspire them to come up with new ideas. Innovation shouldn’t be just about developing something new for its own sake, but rather be the result of a company’s natural response to changes in its market and its customers’ needs. A strong brand will know its market niche and what its customers expect. A poorly defined brand will confuse staff, and customers and innovation will suffer.
The best way of testing an idea is to put it to work. Create a prototype, place it in a boutique outlet and analyse the market’s response. Prototyping will help define a product’s development path often beyond that envisaged during the design stage. It also helps eradicate design flaws at an early stage. Focus groups can only develop a product so far and the incremental improvements that come from prototyping will boost a product’s chances of success. Prototypes can also help secure funding, but perhaps more importantly, they ensure that the market is receptive to the product. After all, people don’t buy concepts, they buy tangible goods and services.
Luc Speisser is managing director of the Paris and Geneva offices of global brand consulting firm Landor
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