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Innovation Cheat Sheet: 5 Ways to Keep Ideas Flowing

Ideas are cheap and plentiful--in the beginning. Keeping the truly innovative ideas coming is the real challenge.
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Coming up with one big innovative idea is great, but a steady stream of ideas could prove much more valuable to your company. 

And there's the rub. 

"Finding ideas is never the problem--initially," say the two researchers behind a new survey on innovation featured in Harvard Business Review. "The challenge is finding radical ideas consistently year after year."

Vijay Govindarajan, professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and Jatin Desai, CEO of The Desai Group, surveyed over 300 global executives from 2008 to 2009 and found that many did not know how to keep radical ideas flowing to create sustainable, long-term innovation.

The duo came up with five steps CEOs can teach their teams to create an "innovation engine" that will lead to radical ideas and and new revenue streams:

Ban sacred cows.

You need to foster an environment where your employees can question the company's business model, delivery system, packaging, and design. "To find radical ideas, most organizations promote learning new tools, techniques, and methods. The more important barrier to innovation is the inability to forget things that prevent innovations from arising," Govindarajan and Desai write. "Identifying and overturning old organizational conventions or boundaries enables breakthrough applications to be born; in so doing, they frequently push companies with deeply held conventions out of the marketplace."

Enable creative discontent.

The status quo kills innovation, the duo writes. There's nothing more detrimental to radical ideas than getting comfortable with hitting your goals and staying profitable. To take your business to a higher level, you'll need to push your employees to practice "creative discontent," or "discomfort with your current state of mind." "An effective way to create creative discontent is to ask questions that shake people up. Bold questions force others to get out of their comfort zones and stretch for solutions they normally would never search for," Govindarajan and Desai write.

Merge and converge.

Merging two different markets, businesses, and customer needs can be a way to create new products, services, and customer experiences. Think of Cosmeceuticals, a new industry created by converging pharmaceuticals and beauty products, write Govindarajan and Desai. Convergence has a way of changing the business landscape, so try blurring the own lines at your own company. "Three major factors drive convergence: technology, competition, and the customer. Each factor directly influences convergence, and the three may indirectly influence each other," the two write. But--"convergence is not simply about combining ideas and technology; it is a primary leadership competency that allows organizations to design the right future," they add.

Teach the art of pivoting.

"Companies who can see early disruptors in an industry can easily identify potential pivots and associated radical ideas. Pivots don't occur overnight; they can be seen. You can teach people how to find pivots," the the authors write. Hold training sessions with employees, or enroll them in programs like Six Sigma to refine this skill. "The faster you identify the pivots, the quicker your ability to make strategic choices between various radical ideas for your next big innovations."

Be frugal.

"Frugal innovations require frugal thinking--an ability to engineer cost‐conscious solutions to address large unmet needs of internal and external customers. The primary driver of frugal thinking is scarcity of time and resources. Frugal thinking forces individuals to be highly creative just to accomplish routine jobs. It is not about being cheap," the two write. "With the daily pressures of limited time, resources, and money, it is crucial to help everyone find more creative ways to innovate."

Last updated: Oct 28, 2013

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported on the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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