Getting a job as an innovation consultant requires equal measures of creative thinking and strategic rigor. And while the scope of the role encompasses everything from redesigning a stage gate process, to creating a culture of creativity, to setting metrics for evaluating innovation; the most common task is coming up with big new ideas for products, services, marketing and communications. Here are five foolproof tricks that every innovation consultant has in their tool kit to help their clients see beyond the obvious.
Take The Scalpel
Knowing where to focus your time is everything. Taking on too much at any one time will hurt your business in the long run. Instead, picking 1-2 initiatives and focusing your efforts on these will catapult your brand and business to new heights. To do this, you need to practice the art of culling. It's time to take the scalpel out! When reviewing your existing line up of strategic initiatives and ideas, ask two simple questions; what's strong and what's wrong. Then, based off the answers; decide whether to invest in fixing what's wrong or whether it's time to walk away. Knowing when to abandon a strategy, or give up on an idea is just as important as having them in the first place.
TIP - Write down each of your current initiatives on post-it notes (one initiative per post-it note); review what's strong and what's wrong. Then, armed with your answers, force yourself to remove at least 50 percent of your initiatives. Now it's time to start ideating on this refined list.
Ask Stupid Questions
We all fear looking the fool, but asking stupid questions is an impossibly smart move. Posing plain and simple questions that interrogate why certain things are done a certain way can open up new worlds of ideas. Often, deeply held assumptions about the way things are done are held for no particular reason--they've just always been done this way. Asking questions like these can unlock greatness:
- Why does the product have to come packaged like this?
- Why is our primary target defined as such?
- Do our customers really care about that?
- Why do you have to buy it this way?
If you ask stupid questions, you're in good company. Method asked why cleaning products have to be toxic, Dyson asked why vacuum cleaners have to be so ugly and Warby Parker asked why prescription glasses had to be so expensive. These seemingly simple questions led to huge, and lucrative, business breakthroughs.
TIP - Take the most basic category truths and challenge them one by one.
Go Inspiration Hunting
Get out of the office and go on the hunt for new, exciting, weird and wonderful things. You might head to an amusement park, a discount store, a museum or a pop-up store. Wander the aisles, pick things up that fascinate you, notice themes, notice what catches your attention and take a few souvenirs (or photos of them) back to the office. As a team, discuss what you collected and see what you might use as inspiration for ideation; especially product, communication, promotional and partnership ideas.
TIP - After your inspiration hunt, use your souvenirs to kickstart ideation. There's no need to overthink it; directly apply your chosen stimulus to your product/service.
Step outside your own category and look at brands that you think are doing things well. In other words, who are you envious of? What are they doing right? You might be envious of Casper, for their creative pop-up stores, envious of Tinder, for such a catchy and effective 'right-swipe' feature, envious of Soul Cycle, for creating a cult-like community or envious of envious of Coke for their singular focus on 'happiness'. Contrary to popular belief, envy is good. Once you've identified a list of brands that you're envious of, ask yourself, what would they do, if they were in charge of my business? Often, you can apply their strategy directly to your own, and the results are profound.
TIP - After honing in on brands you think have done certain things well, imagine how they would run your business. Again, no need to overthink this - the first (and often most obvious) applications are often the best.
Become An Insight Sponge
Insight is critical, but it doesn't have to come in the form a research report. It can however, come from organic, public sources and scouring it should become a daily habit. For consumer insight, follow your brand and related trend hashtags on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Follow the conversations and find out what people aspire to, reject, share and discuss. Go down hashtag rabbit holes and discover the real conversations happening about your product and category. You can also find out what things outside your world your consumer's are interested in; as well as what is being said about your competitors too.
TIP - Make a habit of following your brand, competitors and category trends on social media. Get inspired by what you see and use this stimulus to help answer the question "what would it take to become the most shareable thing you see?".