Every entrepreneur says they want more ideas for their company. But that's not strictly true. What we all really want is more profitable ideas. The point of encouraging innovation, after all, is to improve your bottom line.

Creativity advice from writers and painters is valuable (and often fun) and it'll certainly help you come up with more ideas, but how many of those will be actionable from a business perspective? Maybe some. But if you want a bumper crop of practical, valuable suggestions for a better business, what you really need is design thinking.

That's according to a fascinating recent author Jeanne Liedtka that recently appeared in the newsletter of University of Virginia's Darden Business School. The in-depth article lays out ten techniques business owners and professionals can use to identify concrete opportunities for growth, including these three, summarized here in brief. Check on the complete piece for all the details.

1. Journey mapping

A type of ethnographic research, journey mapping involves imagining every step your customers take on the path to buying your product and then interviewing a few customers in depth to validate and adjust your understanding. The objective is "identifying needs that customers are often unable to articulate," writes Liedtka and her co-author Timothy Ogilvie. You should even know what your customers eat for breakfast, other experts have stressed.

2. Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a team sport, according to Liedtka. The process involves throwing out all the sub-ideas linked to a main theme and then trying to move them around and group them, looking for patterns and ideas.

"Create posters that capture key themes and trends in the data, then invite a group of thoughtful people to tour the visual data and note any learnings that they believe should inform new ideas, then cluster those learnings into themes," she suggests. (There are also a ton of tech tools to help you with mind mapping.)

3. Assumption testing

The reason new initiatives often fail isn't because of the things we considered incorrectly when we made the decision; it's because of the things we didn't think about at all. Assumption testing is meant to reveal the hidden assumptions behind our thinking and provide avenues to test these before we run headlong down the wrong road.

"Sort the data you need into one of the following three categories: what you know, what you don't know and can't know, and what you don't know but could. The third category is pay dirt for the creation of thought experiments," writes Liedtka.

Published on: Aug 15, 2016