Many times, customers don't know what they want. This may be one of the greatest challenges facing companies who look too closely at analytics when researching new ideas.

Scott Anthony wrote an interesting article titled Turning Customer Intelligence into Innovation which gives pause for introspection.

Analytics and research reveal historical patterns, but give little insight into the future. There has to be a better way to research the potential for new ideas.

How to Integrate Customer Intelligence

Anthony stated that “thoughtful companies intertwine customer intelligence throughout the three phases.”

  1. Discovery. This first phase of innovation is when a company or person identifies a problem they can solve in the marketplace. Observe the target audience performing the behaviors surrounding the problem you want to solve. Talk to them, and ask them questions. This will help fine-tune for the next stage.
  2. Blueprint. Software companies do this very well - they launch in beta phase. The blueprint phase is the ideal time to release a product in prototype version to observe its actual applications in real-life. Instant feedback from users helps innovators fine-tune the final product. This is easier in the software industry given the low distribution costs, and ease in upgrading the product, however, it’s a phase that should not be skipped regardless of industry. This type of customer feedback can prove to be invaluable.
  3. Test. The third phase asks the question, “Have you solved the problem for the consumer?” Will it generate revenue, and repeated revenue for the business in question? Will the price work? Is it scalable? This will require a second round of observation and/or testing, which can be done in focus groups or by way of employees, or loyal current customers. If applicable, you can use online tools like SurveyMonkey.

Anthony offers a few final points to incorporating customer intelligence into innovation:

What are you doing to bring better intelligence into your innovation process?

Focus on Innovation for Long-Term PerformanceDoes great leadership always translate to better organizational performance?

According to The Hay Group's seventh annual study of the 20 Best Companies for Leadership, it does.

The companies listed as Best Companies for Leadership (BCLs) out-perform Fortune 500 companies by 100 percent over 10 years.

These companies share another common denominator, however; they value innovation over corporate culture. They view innovation as the driver of shareholder value and understand a significant and continual investment leads to bottom line performance over the long-term.

Rick Lash of the Hay Group summarized the study’s findings in the Harvard Business Review. He identified five critical areas in which these companies lead with innovation.

Five Ways to Lead with Innovation

Lash leaves us with three questions we should be asking ourselves if we want to truly foster innovation:

  1. In our drive to think about the big picture, are we overlooking smaller opportunities that could have greater effects on the organization?
  2. Should we be spending time dedicated to innovation expanding our own knowledge or, by doing so, are we overlooking other existing opportunities within the organization?
  3. Are we doing something to scare ourselves daily? Are we pushing the envelope?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on innovation. Would you add anything to this list?

Thanks to The Daily Galaxy for the image.

Three Ways Leaders Can Boost CreativityCreativity eludes many of us precisely when we need it the most, but as a leader, your job is to be one step ahead and always ready with the next big idea. Creativity is about finding new ways to solve problems and approach situations. It’s not a skill restricted to artists or musicians. It’s a valuable skill for leaders to have, as well.

Bruce Nussbaum wrote an article for Fast Company about how to amplify your creativity.

He says, “Creativity is learned behavior that gets better with training--like sports.”

He offers a few ways leaders can boost their creativity.

Stimulate to Create

Learn a new fact, develop a new hobby, and shake things up a bit. Surround yourself with people you find creative or those who your bring creativity out. Take advantage of your “downtime” and use it for activities you normally wouldn’t have time to enjoy.

Consider alternatives to obvious choices. For instance, companies such as Rent the Runway allow customers to rent high fashion goods and it started as alternative to the assumption we have our own wardrobes.

Make a Creativity Journal

Nussbaum suggests you take a few days - a week or a month - and write down what you do, where you go, and with whom you spend your time. Then map out where and with whom you get your best ideas.

“A creativity map can reveal your process of creativity,” Nussbaum says. Or, it can show the “banality” of your life and why you should change.

Take One Step at a Time

Think about how you get things done and reflect on ways your team works together. This will help you be clear about direction. Find the resources you need to take your idea and make it a reality. Don’t gloss over or skip essential steps that would make an innovative idea a reality. Step back; notice where you are in the process and where you need to go next. Be deliberate.

Creativity is learned behavior that gets better with training and experience. It’s about more than just coming up with a great idea. It’s a process with many components and players that make your idea a reality.

Pay attention to the right issues, develop solutions thoughtfully, and implement them. This will help you turn that creative spark into a true breakthrough innovation.

What helps you boost your creativity?

Image courtesy of Stock.xchng

Four Tips to Create a Culture of InnovationWhen you think of a “culture of innovation” you may think of Apple, Pixar, and Google - the types of businesses where innovation is part of the fabric of the company.

To be innovative, companies and business leaders need to support creativity.

In a Forbes article, Scott Edinger, contributor, said, “While many organizations focus on addressing problems, the most successful focus on raising the bar. One of the ways they do this is by creating a culture where innovation thrives.”

He goes on to say excellence in innovation has less to do with the leader having innovative ideas, but how that leader creates a culture where innovation and creativity thrive in every corner.

He provides five strategies leaders can focus on to foster innovation.

Stress the Bigger Picture

Put effort into having a clear vision of a given scenario. Edinger says one way innovation is cultivated is to make sure everyone involved knows the outcome and strategic goals of any objective. As long as your team understands this, they can make decisions with the goal in mind. Without it, they are going in blind.

Build Trust

Encourage your team to take risks and give them your full support if they fail. If you don’t, no one will take a chance or try something new if they think it might get them fired. Consequences should exist for going outside of the scope of a project, but not for trying something that didn’t work.

Don’t be Afraid to Challenge the Status Quo

Edinger says leaders shouldn’t be afraid to challenge people higher up in the management chain. They are able to separate issues from people and disagree without being disagreeable. “Doing so cultivates tremendous respect from their colleagues,” he said.

Inspire your Team

Find ways to inspire your employees to be innovative. Edinger says when people feel inspired by a leader, they are more likely to give more effort and go the extra mile on a project. “That extra effort and commitment is often what produces innovation,” he added. Keep everyone up-to-date on where you are, how you’re innovating, and who has been responsible for pushing the project forward.

Every company’s culture is different. Foster and promote innovation within your organization if you want to start to build an innovative culture.

How are some ways you inspire innovation?

Image courtesy of Seth1492 via Flickr

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Competitors CloserTeaming up with the competition? It sounds counter-intuitive, since by definition any customer your competitor gains supposedly means a corresponding loss of revenue for you. Certainly this is an accepted truth in the “old school” business model.

But times are changing, says Erin Schwartz, a guest blogger on thoughtLEADERS LLC. In the modern business world, there are ways of working with the competition that can “actually enhance your business.”

What are the possible benefits of cooperating instead of competing?

Five Benefits of Cooperating With Competitors

Find a Differentiating Niche

When you and your competitor offer customers the same products or services, you’re both trapped in a “dog-eat-dog” business culture. The only way to win is by lowering prices, which Schwartz calls an “uninspired business model.”

A better alternative is specialization. Finding a way to differentiate your product can ultimately lead to enhanced business results “because you’ll have an easier time focusing and striving for improvement.”

The niche you develop may appeal to a smaller market, but in all likelihood you’ll have a lock on that market.

Create a Referral Synergy

A willingness to refer customers to another business (if and when they’re in a better position to meet those customers’ needs) builds goodwill and respect among your customer base. “That respect will likely lead them back to you when they have needs that align with your specialty,” Schwartz notes. A like-minded competitor will return the favor and, upon occasion, refer people to you.

Innovation through Collaboration

When you can establish a cooperative relationship with a competitor, many surprising things can happen. Sharing information can generate more effective and cost-efficient ways to do business and save money—always a win-win.

Make Your Customers Happy

Your customers will benefit from improvements in products and services that come about as a result of positive intra-industry relationships. As Schwartz notes, “these improvements benefit the companies, which invariably find loyal customers through this process.”

He cites cases of business owners who pair up with similar companies to offer training and educational sessions on issues related to their businesses.

For example, two financial planners co-sponsor a seminar on retirement planning. One business owner focuses on which accounts to open to minimize tax burdens, while the other discusses long-term care insurance. In this case, it’s unlikely one financial planner took customers away from the other.

“Instead, they both gained exposure that they might not have received if they hadn’t worked together,” which can eventually lead to increased business for each one.

Let Go of “Me-Against-Them”

The global economy has forever changed the way we do business. The more competitors you have in your space, the more you can work as an industry to increase demand. With enlightened competitors, it’s possible to collaborate in ways that benefit your customers and enable your business to grow.

Wherever possible, look for ways to move beyond a “Me-Against-Them” business model and see how working with a competitor can benefit you both.

How can you work with a competitor to grow your business?   

Thanks to for the image.

Ten Tricks: How to Generate Business IdeasThe ability to generate business ideas comes easily to some people and not to others. You don’t always have the time to sit around and wait for inspiration to strike. Understanding the secrets of creativity can be valuable next time you’re asked to come up with a big idea.

Inc. and Fast Company wrote articles recently on how to get the creative juices flowing and generate business ideas.

Following are ten tricks from both articles for you to use:

Keep a Journal

Write down ideas as soon as they come to you. Whether you keep a notebook, jot them down on a napkin, or put a note in your phone, write them down anywhere you can capture them. This will help you when you need to plug into your creativity.


conventional thinkingWhat do companies like Kodak, Sears, Sony, and Blockbuster have in common?

All of these once-monolithic businesses clung to status-quo thinking rather than seeking to constantly adapt, innovate, and improve.

In at least two cases, the reward for their conventional thinking was bankruptcy.

How does an organization escape the prison of conventional thinking?

“The first step is to consider the way you have always done business—and stop,” says Brian Klapper, a contributor to the Harvard Business Review Blog. “Failing to do so not only prevents truly innovative thinking: it also ensures failure.”

Klapper, president and founding partner of The Klapper Institute, offers tips for “killing the status quo” in your business strategy. (more…)

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