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Hacking the Innovation Process: How to Encourage Teams to Think Big

By Ian Cornett on February 2, 2017

Hacking the Innovation Process How to Encourage Teams to Think Big.pngThe innovation process can be used in any business area to improve a product, service, or method, and like any other type of process, innovation can be structured and taught. Putting the brightest minds in a room together is a good first step, but without clear guidance about how to generate big ideas, their time together might not be as productive as it could be. Rather than waiting for a single light-bulb moment to occur, lay the groundwork that puts multiple great ideas on the table.  

When trying to get the most from the innovation process, there are steps you can take to boost creativity and spark new ideas. On the other hand, negativity and fear can stifle the innovation process. Let’s look at both sides of the innovation coin and what you can do to invoke inspiration and shut out cynicism.   

Enhance the Innovation Process

The innovation process can be improved by using methods like brainstorming, ideation, and reinforcement. A good team leader will also have skills that keep the group focused, move the conversation forward, and optimize the effectiveness of the team.

Brainstorm Better

Everybody is familiar with brainstorming, but not everybody uses techniques to make it more effective. A typical brainstorming session starts with a single question and captures the responses. This process can certainly generate new ideas, but you can push innovation by using these types of prompts:

  • Let’s build on that idea
  • How can we reshape that concept?
  • What can we do to get other stakeholders to agree?
  • Let’s generate more great ideas like that one
  • How can we make that idea work?

They might seem like simple questions and comments, but sometimes all it takes is a gentle push in the right direction to get the team to open up and explore the idea further.

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Start with What You Have

Great ideas don’t always have to come out of thin air. Sometimes making improvements to existing products or processes can be just as effective as starting from scratch. Use some of the following words to spark a conversation about how to innovate with the resources you already have:

  • Combine
  • Substitute
  • Simplify
  • Stretch
  • Reduce
  • Exaggerate
  • Imitate

This process can also lead to other great ideas. When the wheels start to turn about how you can modify one thing, it’s not unusual for people to start thinking that way about other areas of improvement.   

Watch out for Innovation Killers

Nothing kills the innovation process faster than fear. If participants are worried that their ideas will be considered stupid or impossible, they will be less likely to share their thoughts. Creating an environment of acceptance and support is critical to a successful culture of innovation. Of course, not every new concept will work, but unless the team feels free to think boldly, you could miss out on the next big idea.

Language that Causes Ideas to Languish

The early stages of the innovation process must be unfettered if you truly want your team members to think big. If they are constantly thinking about the practicality of implementation or the associated costs, the most innovative ideas will dwindle to safe suggestions. Avoid this type of language if you want to get the most from the innovation process:

  • We shouldn’t rock the boat too much
  • Just to play devil’s advocate…
  • It’s a good theory, but it’s not very practical
  • It’s too expensive
  • That never worked before

Whether or not they are true, these types of statements will stop innovation in its tracks. Sure, the original idea might be impossible, but by approaching it with a can-do attitude throughout the entire innovation process, the end result could be groundbreaking.  

If you want to encourage teams to think big, give them the tools they need to succeed. Offer training to improve the innovation process and nip negativity in the bud to let new ideas flourish.

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Ian Cornett

About the author

Ian has been with Eagle’s Flight since 1997, and is Executive Vice President, Global Accounts. He holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing from the University of British Columbia. Ian spent 12 years at Nestlé Canada and brings a wide range of experience that includes practical business experience in management, sales, program design, development and mentoring. He works closely with the Global licensees to ensure their success as they represent Eagle’s Flight in the worldwide marketplace. He has developed outstanding communication skills and currently is the Executive in Charge of a large Fortune 500 client with a team of employees dedicated to this specific account. As a result, Ian has been instrumental in driving the company’s growth and strategic direction.

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