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Six ways to kickstart innovation

Stuck in an innovation rut? Here are six tips and tricks to help boost your business innovation from Jim Scully, of strategic design consultancy firm ThinkPlace.

Stuck in an innovation rut? Here are six tips and tricks to help boost your business innovation from Jim Scully, of strategic design consultancy firm ThinkPlace.

According to Statistics New Zealand, nearly half of New Zealand businesses reported innovation activity in 2011. And the aggregate profitability of innovators was twice that of non-innovators.

According to Jim Scully, sometimes all that’s blocking a business from becoming more innovative is itself. Being too narrow in your focus of what innovation is can sometimes kill ideas too quickly, before they’ve had enough time to develop and grow.

“A lot of people think it’s just creativity, but innovation’s more than that,” says Scully. “[It’s about] creating something, developing something and realising or commercialising the benefits.”

So if you’re looking to boost innovation in your business, here are six things to try:

Seek fresh insight

Doing this early on in the process will help fuel innovation – “always seek insight early and find ways to bring it in, undiluted and raw, into your company,” says Scully.

Build a diverse, eclectic team of people around you – this will help to bring new perspectives in and give you a different take on the project.

And when you’re looking at getting those new perspectives, it’s important to “go to the edges” – because this is where you’ll get the most variation and the most insight. For example, if you’re designing something with an element of technology, get perspectives from technology-averse people, says Scully.

Create space for ideas

“Innovative teams create collaborative spaces which are highly flexible and usable,” says Scully.

For example, use white walls instead of whiteboards to create the maximum amount of space possible for your ideas. Make sure these ideas are easily visible and there’s enough space to add to them – keep building and evolving these ideas and don’t kill them by rubbing them off too fast.

Be curious

“Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it absolutely gives life to innovation,” says Scully.

It’s important to get into new environments and try and see new things – get insight from a different industry, go to a different country, expose yourself to new information from all sources, whether it’s from a magazine or other people.

According to Scully, looking outside your particular industry is particularly helpful because there may already be some good ideas in place that could be easily tweaked for your own context.

Co-design

“Put yourself in the customer’s shoes,” says Scully.

Design early and often with the people who will be the ones using your product or service, as opposed to later-stage user testing when only small adjustments can be made. Try to understand what’s desirable from the customer or user perspective, and design keeping that in mind first.

Think big

“Have big goals and challenges with juice to generate innovative energy,” says Scully.

Don’t limit yourself to what you think is possible from a technological view or viable from a business perspective – frame the challenge in different ways and widen the possibilities of what you think you can achieve.

Get feedback

Get things out early to maximise the testing and learning stage. Scully says once you have an idea, it’s important to “make it visible” early on in the process.

To borrow a phrase from Silicon Valley – “think by making,” says Scully. Prototype the product or service simply and crudely – the point is not to make it look good, but to test it and learn from it.