Filling your innovation funnel: Ideas all around

Have you ever been asked by your boss to come up with ideas for a new product, service or process improvement? I can’t think of a role where I wasn’t asked to do just that – and I always jump at the opportunity. But for many, the question is terrifying.

There are two fundamental types of innovation: demand pull, which is typically driven by solving a problem that exists and innovation push, where someone comes up with something new and then looks for a market that it could apply to. The latter is riskier, because it may not be solving a problem that needs to be solved, and therefore there may not be a viable market for it. However, demand pull has a significantly higher chance at being successful.

But how do you even get that far? If you take a step back and take a look around, you will find there are ideas all over the place. Let’s start by looking outside your organization and then focus on internal sources.

External sources

  • Customers: these are one of your biggest sources of innovation. Understanding the problems customers need solved is the first and most important step to driving innovation.
  • Suppliers: these firms have a wealth of knowledge about emerging trends, best practices in other industries, etc. Finding ways to collaborate with suppliers can be a great way to generate ideas to create new products.
  • Universities and educational institutions: Many universities or technical colleges have technology patenting offices where you can learn about the intellectual property they have created and are interested in licensing for commercialization.
  • Strategic partners: accelerators, joint ventures and community organizations focused on innovation and/or economic development are all vested in driving innovation and interested in strategic partnerships or have programs to help organizations interested in innovation.

Internal sources

  • Employees: employees are one of a company’s most important resources. Your employees may come up with ideas in a multitude of ways; Perhaps the idea grew from a watercooler discussion, or maybe out of a formal process to gather employee ideas.
  • Existing products or processes:these are often place to start looking for opportunities to innovate, though often it is incremental as opposed to radical. 

Regardless of how ideas were generated, the next step is determining which ones are worth pursuing and figuring out the best way to drive the curiosity needed that will lead to creative solutions. This is an area I’ll explore in a future blog.

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