Dear WOUNDED: My company is always screaming at us to think outside of the box. Yet, whenever we do, it piles on the criticism for anything we come up with. How do you come up with new ideas when there is little support for them?
ANSWER: Comedian Lewis Black had a great line about the difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties. He said that the Democrats were the party of no ideas and the Republicans are full of bad ideas. A Republican will stand up and say, "I've got a really bad idea." The Democrat responds, "And I can make it crappier."
This probably reminds you of the bosses where you work -- a bunch of people who wouldn't know a great new idea if it bit them on their backside. That's why it's important for each of us to develop strategies for identifying new ideas "under the radar" or without your boss's permission. I've listed three do's and a don't for doing this, below. For more, check out "Ideas Are Free" by Robinson and Schroeder (Berrett Koehler, 2004).
DO talk to noncustomers. OK, most of us don't talk to our customers enough. But if it's new ideas that you're looking for, the people who are NOT your current customers can often hold the key to enlightenment. Sure, these people can be hard to find and tougher to talk to. But they also can hold major breakthroughs for you and your company if you take the time to understand why they don't buy your stuff.
DO seek the second right answer. We're all under a great deal of time pressure in business. But I've learned that it's seldom about being first to market. Rather, it's the best ideas that generally succeed over time. That's why it's so important to not get too wowed by the first right answer you come across. Often there is a better option, but only if you keep digging.
DO keep track of exceptions. Anyone who has been in business for a while learns that there are always exceptions to every rule, and you can learn an exceptional amount from them. For example, when it comes to your customers, don't always just round up the usual suspects. Look for the customers who don't fit the normal profile. Find out why, and how, they use your product. You just might be surprised. Because when it comes to exceptions, they rule when it comes to getting new ideas.
DON'T strive for perfection. New ideas conjure up images of fun, creativity and enormous potential. However, they often are anything but. They're a hassle, a challenge, time consuming and at every point they'll have you wondering if it is all worth it. That's why it's important to lose your need to be perfect when you're on the hunt for new ideas. Because new ideas are inherently imperfect.
Fly under the radar in your search, and you'll put great new ideas on the map for your company.
"Many things are lost for want of asking." -- English proverb
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