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How to be Innovative

By Annabelle Hoffman |

Imagine that it was you that stepped into a coffee house in Italy in 1982. You saw how it was busy in the morning with the construction crew and BUSY all day and into the evening with the balance of the population.

You find yourself asking, why are these people paying three dollars for a mocha grande? Is it because they don't have an espresso machine at home? Or is it something else? Perhaps they want to be seen or enjoy going to a swell place to hang with friends. One company took the time to think this through, and as a result Starbucks today has over 6000 locations in 30 countries. Now that was innovative!

With that in mind, here are a few ideas that can help you be innovative.

Get to know your customers

To better understand your customer needs ask yourself, how can I help? I bought a gown recently at a shop where the manager informed me the reason for their success is that they sell sexy gowns. They know their customer needs, which enables them to provide the "sizzle" that people are looking for.

Visit unfamiliar territory

Did you know that Gutenberg got a flash of insight after visiting a winery and seeing a wine press in action? If you don't have time to visit unusual places, make a point of picking up magazines that you normally do not read. It is amazing how easily you can transfer ideas from one product to another.

Get inside the head of the end user

At Target, a large U.S. discount home store, both product and ad mangers stroll through the children's department on their knees so they can see what the end users sees. What are people seeing in your business that you have missed? For example, many clothing retailers could increase their business if they would just put a hook into their spotless change rooms.

Practice seeing more than what's in front of your eyes.

Win Winger, a brilliant author who wrote "The Einstein Factor" advices us to "… see in the side bands of your eyes". Tell yourself in descriptive terms what you see, as this will help you to remember.

Explore far and wide

Author David Perkins, who wrote The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking tells people to explore far and wide in the search for possibilities. Don't assume that your assumptions are correct, but take the time to re-examine things. Ask yourself if you have identified the right problem. If not, you will need to reframe it. Finally, remove all solutions that really do not have any hope of working. This is the essence of innovation.

Here are some other ideas to help you be innovative.

  • "Test fast - fail fast - adjust fast." I use this valuable idea from Tom Peters.

  • Create a dream team focus group - of your customers - and then seek their input with your product development or inventory assortment.

  • Look back in history and reflect on the winners. Do this kind of postmortem regularly.

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