innovative ideas don't appear out of nowhere

Innovative Ideas and where they come from

Search stats for "innovative ideas" on google are far higher than searches for "how to increase innovation" or "how to get new ideas.

This reinforces the common belief (myth) that innovation starts with an idea and people are taking to the internet in a vain attempt to shortcut the process 🤦🏼‍♂️.

The leadership says “We want more innovative ideas” but all too often they don’t take any action to stimulate them, apart from setting up an “electronic suggestion box” or perhaps encouraging a few brainstorming sessions.

Then they sit back and wait in expectation.

This approach is often met with blank stares or even worse, a deluge of irrelevant ideas because leadership didn’t consider where innovative ideas come from in the first place.

If you want more innovative ideas in your organisation, you need to gather the right ingredients first – it’s just like cooking.

If I gave you an egg, a piece of cheese and 2 slices of bread, how many tasty dishes could you cook up for me using only those ingredients? Probably not many I’m guessing and probably not anything hugely inspiring that I haven’t seen before.

But this is how many companies approach innovation. They expect their employees to miraculously conjure up tasty treats in the form of innovative ideas without providing any new ingredients.

Now what if I gave you the same egg, piece of cheese and two slices of bread, but I opened my fully stocked larder, fridge, freezer and spice cabinet and I asked you to combine my core ingredients with anything else you want?

Sure, some of you might still serve me cheesy scrambled egg on toast but I’m guessing that I’m going to see some dishes that I’ve never seen in my life.

Now what if I set you a brief to go out and find some of your own ingredients to combine with mine and I challenge you to create something I’ve never seen before, to serve to a dinner party with my foodie friends who will award substantial prizes for the best dishes of the evening?

Some of you might be a bit overwhelmed by the task and drop out at this point, but I’m guessing some will relish the task and scour the ends of the earth to create something truly unique to rise to the challenge.

Apologies if I’ve lost a few of you along the way with my cooking analogy ……. I’ll come back to my point relating to innovative ideas and where they come from.

Innovation mostly involves putting together things that already exist, in a different way.

quote by Tom Freston

It's just like cooking a meal

Innovative ideas don’t appear randomly out of nowhere, they are themselves the product of a repeatable process.

The origin of every innovative idea can be traced back to a problem, an event, a situation or exposure to a new piece of information, that triggered its conception.

A robust and repeatable Innovation Process begins with curating inputs (gathering the ingredients) that trigger the conception of ideas.

The ingredients you need will be primarily sourced from changes and challenges.

Changes can open new opportunities, be the solution to a current challenge or could be the cause of future challenges. Organisations that are obsessed with solving customer challenges are amongst the most successful (and innovative) in the world.

Your journey to becoming a more innovative organisation begins with cataloguing, tracking and sharing both changes and challenges through the process of Horizon Scanning.

Horizon Scanning is often thought of in the narrow context of “Trendspotting” but there is a whole lot more to it.

Horizon Scanning is the continuous process of assessing the landscape around you.

  • What’s new?
  • What’s changed since the last time you saw it?
  • What are the impacts and implications for society, your industry, your ecosystem, your organisation and the individuals within it?
  • What are the challenges faced by your industry, your customers, the customers of your customers and your employees (who by definition, work in your industry).
  • How widespread are these challenges?
  • What do these challenges cost them?
  • What value would they place on solutions to the challenges?
  • Are these changes and challenges common knowledge across your organisation?

The more ingredients you can provide to your staff, the more innovative ideas you can expect as a result.

Some Horizon Scanning activities can (and should) be carried out across the entire organisation by employees as part of their day job. For example, you would expect a subject matter expert to be on top of the latest news and developments within their subject domain and sales and customer service staff are perfectly positioned to highlight customer challenges.

But this is just the start.

Analyst organisations, industry thought leaders, regulatory bodies, academia, think tanks, social media, the startup community, your eco-system, primary research, conferences and events are all rich sources of the ingredients you need to inspire innovative ideas across your organisation.

The resulting volume of information from Horizon Scanning activities can be a bit overwhelming. It needs to be curated in order to make sense of it to identify patterns, signals and trends to act upon. This is best done by a central function that is specifically tasked with scanning the horizon and curating the inputs across all sources.

A central function is also best placed to share knowledge and insights back out across the entire organisation, which is one of the key activities required to enable and accelerate innovation across your organisation in a consistent and repeatable manner.

How you share the outputs, who you share them with and how you should be using them to generate more innovative ideas will be the topic of my next post - stay tuned for more!

Innovation doesn’t start with an idea ……… and neither should you.


(I'll be sharing what your next steps should be in future posts - if you can't wait for those, feel free to get in touch to find out how I can help your organisation THINK and BE more innovative in everything you do)