Thinking Outside The Box: Why You Need Innovation to Grow Your Business
When innovators talk about thinking outside the box, they mean coming up with creative ways to solve problems — new ways to look at things. How do they do it? How can you do it too? We first have to ask what the “box” is. Then we can look at how to get outside of it.
The “box” is the normal way of doing things and looking at things. It is the assumptions that almost everyone involved is making. The best way to start thinking out of the box then is to identify and challenge all the assumptions that makeup thinking inside the box.
One of the major liquor brands was faltering years ago, and they couldn’t seem to boost their sales. Promotions, lowering the price, getting better shelf placement — these were the “in the box” solutions. Then someone challenged the assumptions, by asking “What if we stopped the promotions and just raised the price?”
The price was raised as an experiment, and sales soon doubled. As it turns out, some types of liquor are bought quite often as gifts. Buyers don’t want to buy the most expensive one, but they also don’t want to seem cheap, so they won’t buy products that don’t cost enough. Now imagine what happens to your profit margins when you raise the price and double the sales. That’s the power of thinking outside of the box.
Ways To Get Outside The Box
Challenging assumptions is a powerful creative problem-solving technique. The difficult part is to identify the assumptions. If you are designing a new motorcycle, write down assumptions like “speed matters,” “it has to run on gas” and “it needs two wheels,” not because you expect to prove these wrong, but because challenging these can lead to creative possibilities. Maybe the time has come for an electric three-wheeled motorcycle.
Another way to get to creative solutions is to “assume the absurd.” This is either fun or annoying, depending on how open-minded you can be. All you do is start making absurd assumptions, then finding ways to make sense of them. The easiest way to do it is by asking “what if.”
What if a carpet cleaning business was better off with half as many customers? It seems absurd but works with it. Hmm…less stressful, perhaps. More profitable if each customer was worth three times as much. Is this possible? Commercial jobs that involve large easy-to-clean spaces (theaters, offices, convention halls) make more money in a day than houses, with fewer headaches. Focusing on getting those accounts could be the most profitable way to go — not so absurd.
Another way to more innovative ideas is to do your thinking out of the box. Get out of the house or the office. Look around at how others are doing things.
Innovation: How to Grow Your Business
If you’re running or managing a business and want it to be around for a long time, you need to spend a good part of your time innovating. That’s because, in a fast-moving world, where people expect things to get better and better, and cheaper and cheaper, innovation is your route to getting ahead of your competition.
Here are 7 ways to create and use innovation.
1. Create An Innovative Climate. Lund University in Sweden has defined three conditions needed for a climate of innovation. They are trust, dynamism, and humor.
2. Develop Washing-Up Creativity. According to the Roffey Park Management Institute, most flashes of inspiration come to people when they are away from work and not forcing their conscious brains to find solutions to their problems.
For some, ideas come while mowing the lawn or taking the dog for a walk or playing golf or waiting at a railway station. For Isaac Newton, it was an apple on the head while sitting in the garden. For Archimedes, it was in the bath. For others its, while doing the dishes; that’s why Roffey Park calls these flashes of insight: washing-up creativity.
3. Make New Connections. Making new connections between existing features of your product or service is a popular way to innovate. Akio Morita, chairman of Sony, said that he invented the Walkman because he wanted to listen to music while walking between shots on his golf course. His team simply put together two seemingly incompatible products: a tape recorder and a transistor radio.
4. Find Out What People Need. Necessity is a great spur to innovation. Take, for example, writing paper. The Chinese had already made paper from rags around the year 100 BC but because there was no need for it, nothing came of it.
When it did reach Europe in the Middle Ages when writing was all the rage, the supply of rags and worn-out fabric soon dried up. That’s when a French naturalist discovered that wasps made their nests by chewing wood into a mash that dried in thin layers. Within 100 years, all paper was made using the idea of wood pulp.
5. Test, Test, Test. Product testing is the way most inventors and organizations go about innovation. It may not be the quickest route to success, but it is often the surest. Jonas Salk, for example, discovered the polio vaccine by spending most of his time testing and testing and continually finding out what didn’t work.
Thomas Edison, the inventor of the filament light bulb, recorded 1300 experiments that were complete failures. But he was able to keep going because, as he said, he knew 1300 ways that it wasn’t going to work.
6. Adopt and Adapt. One relatively easy approach to innovation is to notice how others deal with problems and then adapt their solutions to your own. It’s known to adapt and adopt.
Its what watchmakers Swatch did when they realized that the more reliable their watches became, the fewer people needed to replace them. Their solution? Borrow an idea from the world of fashion and collections by turning their watches into desirable fashion accessories. Now people buy Swatch watches not just to tell the time but because it’s cool to do so.
7. Take Lessons From Nature. If you want to be inventive, you can’t beat nature. The world of nature gives us an endless supply of prototypes to use in our world. Take Velcro, for example. Velcro was patented by Georges de Mestral in 1950 after he returned from a hunting trip covered in tiny burrs that had attached themselves to his clothing by tiny overlapping hooks. De Mestral quickly realized that there was an ideal technique to fasten material together. A whole new way of doing things was suddenly invented.
The history of the world is the history of innovation. Thomas Kuhn called each acceptance of an innovation a paradigm shift. For once innovation becomes accepted, the world has changed forever and can never go back to the way it was.
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