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April 12th, 2016

Better Ideas

New—and better—product ideas are the lifeblood of your company’s future.

If you want to create products that customers love, you have to start with better ideas.

Most companies already spend time generating ideas. The goal is to formulate ideas that lead to entire new opportunities (big ideas) or ideas that provide improvements to the current products by solving problems and enhancing user experiences.

Better ideas lead to better products, to better consumer experiences, and ultimately, to business growth and customer satisfaction. However, most companies struggle with generating ideas. They wait for ideas to come to them. From their sales force. From focus groups. Or from their direct customers, such as retailers. Often, and even less productive, companies corral team members in a room to “brainstorm”.

Better ideas > Better products.

So where do better ideas come from? In my experience there must be three key ingredients: 1. Process. 2. Preparation. 3. Experienced Idea People.

  1. Find a proven Process to generate, collect, and manage ideas so the best can be identified and nurtured. There are lots of new idea-generating processes out there. The one you choose doesn’t need to be complicated, it just has to be embraced by the folks who’ll participate with it. The most important aspect is that ideas will be supported and acted upon. The best processes allow for fragile ideas to incubate during exploration and refinement, and then be combined with other concepts by the idea’s champion. Management stewardship is critical. Judgment is suspended. Idea generators are freed up to participate. Emphasis is on the importance of idea generation to your company’s success. And by all means, remember to make it fun!
  2. Preparation. Ideas come to the prepared mind. That means preparation before idea generation. Better ideas come to participants when they:
    • Understand the needs and goals of the business.
    • Understand targets of opportunity “If we could do this, then…” Understand trends—consumer, technology, competitive, and others, as they relate.
    • Conduct customer / consumer research. Not just with your immediate customer but with the end user as well. Go beyond asking questions. Spend time observing. Include active listening, such as social media. This is key to unlocking insights that can lead to better ideas.
  3. Experienced idea people generate better ideas. Companies spend lots of time and effort trying to make their organizations and staff more creative. For better ideas I’d suggest starting with teams made up of more creative people. Employ experienced industrial designers, design engineers, and industry experts. Those who will understand your business goals, join in consumer research, develop insights, and make connections. They will brainstorm with other ideators from a broad set of backgrounds. That’s where connections come from—when experiences you don’t have personally get a chance to run into things you do know about. There are many techniques ideators can use to help generate ideas, but the most overlooked requirement for better ideas is the use of better idea generators.The traits to look for in an idea generator are: depth and breadth of experience, empathy for your end user, curiosity, and skills at idea generation. Pluses also include: well traveled, broad social networks, and knows how to find ways to unplug. Lastly, be sure to look for strong mix of backgrounds among your idea generators.

Process. Preparation. And Experienced Idea People. Three keys to evolve from good ideas to better ideas to products that people will love.

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