Tag Archives: IDEO

How do you source ideas for innovation out of customers?

How do you source ideas for innovation out of customers?

Phil McKinney asks: are customers a source of ideas for innovation?

Two years ago The Economist published a report where it indicated that by 2020 customers will replace R&D as the main source of new ideas. Well, apart from customers, there are many sources where companies can get ideas for innovation; partners, competitors, non-competing companies and employees.

Some of the most innovative ideas can come from customers themselves. But, you must involve them.

Innovation posts of the week: 10 Practical Tips on Making Innovation Happen

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Innovation book review: Little Bets by @petersims

Little Bets by Peter Sims

“The side that learns and adapts the fastest often prevails.” – General David Petraeus

You can’t mess with evolution. That’s the message I got from the book Little Bets by Peter Sims.

If you are well versed with the state of current innovation thinking, you will find that the main ideas are heavily influenced by design thinking. This is not a recipe book for design thinking. There are no how to’s. It’s strength lies in it’s synthesis of the main principles of experimental innovation. Today, more commonly known as design thinking.

It’s a well written and engaging book. I read Little Bets in a little over 6 hours. It’s a short read but entertaining read.

What stands out about the book is the distinctive stories and characters Mr. Sims uses to illustrate the main ideas. For example, how Chris Rock tests new jokes in small venues with small audiences before taking them to bigger events. This helps him tests and refine jokes that he knows will resonate with audiences at bigger events. The story of how Pixar’s Toy Story begun from little bets. How the the success of the U.S. Military’s ‘Surge Strategy’ is influenced by Design Thinking.

Reverse brainstorming: A better way to generate creative ideas


When we consider ‘how aha really happens‘ the traditional method we use for generating creative ideas, brainstorming, has flaws. Ask your friends, when do they have their best ideas? They will seldom answer, ‘during a brainstorming session’. Most likely it was in the shower, while driving and stuck in traffic or while daydreaming. The fact of the matter is ‘we can’t schedule creativity’ because we don’t know when that ‘aha’ will strike. Yet despite this basic human process we find that managers schedule a specific time for teams to come up with creative ideas.

This is not how creativity works in our brains. (Read page two of ‘How Aha really happens’):

“Over the past decade, neuroscientists have come a long way in figuring out how ideas form in the human mind. As it turns out, their findings contradict how most companies understand and organize innovation. But very few executives know that. They continue applying their conventional wisdom, unaware that science has overturned it.”

Another common belief is that having diverse people involved in a brainstorming session improves idea generation and selection. While this is true that doesn’t mean that the human element of ‘bias’ doesn’t exist. Group dynamics stifle innovation:

For example, in brainstorming sessions several people can quickly dominate a conversation often restricting the sharing of all potential ideas. In other cases, individuals may think less critically about a problem because they are happy to let others do the heavy lifting.  And, those people who lack confidence or internal credibility are more likely to practice self-censorship within peer groups. Finally, groups can be a breeding-ground for organizational barriers such as cultural norms and management bias that limit creativity and critical thinking.

Ok so now what?

Hybrid Model of Brainstorming

I think a better way of brainstorming is doing the opposite of typical brainstorming. For example, instead of brainstorming in groups to solve a particular problem at a particular time, setup a weekly meeting and let people bring in ideas on any subject that strike them at any time during the week. Interesting right?

Also in a traditional brainstorming session the group picks out the idea right there. Instead, don’t decide right away. Because if you brought an idea on any topic at all, the rest of the group might not have thought about the topic before. They’ll greet you with a blank stare in their face.

So instead of evaluating your idea the group will ask you to explain the idea as best you can, including all the elements that you combined in your head to come up with the idea. Then everyone goes off and think about individually and the discussion can continue over emails, telephone or in person. Eventually, a promising idea might emerge from the pack. At that time, it’s time for the ‘What Works Matrix‘ as an individual or group exercise.

Bottom line is creating the element of surprise at the beginning of idea generation. Because if you don’t create surprises you aren’t innovating.

Reverse brainstorming isn’t new

Now that you know how creativity works in the brain, the point is that our brains make connections continuously without us being aware of it. And because this is a natural human process, it’s key that we take advantage of in a whole week or month and not just in a two hour session.

Now, new research suggests that this hybrid model of brainstorming is more effective than the traditional one. While the research may be new, the practice is not. Firms such as IDEO have been doing this for years. They’re well known for including people from diverse backgrounds in all their meetings, essentially preparing a cocktail mix of ingredients to generate creative ideas.

This is how creativity works in the brain.

Obstacles don’t go away easily

Personally, I practice this model of brainstorming myself but have encountered problems. For example, if you’re the only one who brainstorms this way you’ll end up generating ideas that make no sense to others. They’ll think you’re nuts but at the same time they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt since you seem to have all the cool non-conventional ideas. Another problem is that people are used to brainstorming and selecting an idea right there. They don’t want to give an idea time to ‘simmer’ in their brains because of the bias for action. And also because they have more ‘important’ things to do in their routines and supposedly have no time to think. Blah!

So what to do?

Well you have to get people on board in the new way of brainstorming. My recommendation is ‘educate’ your team on how creativity works in our brains so they become aware of their own tendencies. This isn’t necessarily going to eliminate all obstacles but it’s an effective way to get people to believe, and as a plus they’ll feel smarter.

Thoughts? Do you practice a version of reverse brainstorming?

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Will.i.am + Intel. What does it mean?

will.i.am performing with Black Eyed Peas at O...

Image via Wikipedia

So the news broke yesterday that Black Eyed Peas singer Will.i.am is the new Director of Creative Innovation of chip maker Intel. It seemed to catch everyone by surprise. Well it shouldn’t really surprise you because it was only a matter of time when a major corporation would call on a ‘celebrity artist’ to collaborate on a deeper level. What is surprising are the protagonists: Will.i.am and Intel.

You see, innovation and design consultancies such as IDEO, Jump Associates, Frog Design have been collaborating with artists for a long time. It’s standard practice for them to bring them into the ideation and design process because they understand that innovation comes from anywhere including the creative arts. Now these are not ‘celebrity artists’, they’re artists from a local bar, freelancers or a friend of someone.

And that’s the difference. Big names joining forces gets noticed.

Examples of collaboration between celebrity artists and corporations exists already: Polaroid named Lady Gaga Creative Director of it’s imaging products last year and the result were the sunglasses that incorporate both a camera for taking pictures and video and an LCD screen for playing them back. HP brought in Dr. Dre and his Beats Headphones from the simple sound guide website to help freshen up their Envy line of laptops.

And this is only the beginning…

But what do these collaborations mean?


As tech companies try to figure out how best to sell their growing multimedia firepower to consumers, they are turning to creative types like will.i.am for ideas and insight into the tastes of a younger demographic, as well as looking for their star power to add some sheen to their products.

What these artists have in common is they’re part of the culture of fashion, music and design. They have huge audiences of fans and have a thorough understanding of what their fans like. They can move masses of people because they understand culture. They also have a sense of technology. These insights are extremely valuable to corporations.

Some may see this as a simple marketing gimmick. I disagree. What I think is this points to a much larger trend, and that is the need for corporations to understand culture. Grant McCracken dedicated a whole book to expose why corporations fall behind in understanding consumers and how this is simply a problem of not understanding that the world they live in, is much different than the one their customers live in. It’s rallying cry for the need to understand culture. To not just observe it but to live it and bring it into the corporation.

Insights are the seeds of great ideas and you have to understand the world your customers live in to uncover those insights. These collaborations help bridge that gap.


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Innovation posts of the week: Management innovation at W.L. Gore

Lessons from a Middle-Aged Revolutionary at W.L. Gore &

« Clay Shirky

– PARC blog

– Harvard Business Review

– Harvard Business Review

Experiments – the Key to Innovation – Innovation Leadership Network

– Harvard Business Review

– Harvard Business Review