Every decade or so, there’s a business concept that has everyone chasing their tail. Usually, it’s caused by an economic shift that dictates that companies reinvent some aspect of how they do business.
Early in my career, every business was scrambling to get lean, and then there was figuring out how to have a digital presence. No doubt there are organizations that are still wrestling with those. But the hottest buzzword that has today’s business leaders jumping through hoops is innovation.
Search the word “innovation” on Google and you’ll see that it has appeared on the cover of every magazine from Fast Company to Inc. and Time. Everyone is chasing the concept of innovative, but I’m not sure how many people could articulate what it looks like or would recognize it if it bit them.
There are probably a handful of good definitions, but for this purpose, let’s agree that innovation means doing something new, different, smarter or better that will make a positive difference.
In the marketing world, innovation is old hat. The whole point of marketing is to differentiate your product or service so you can earn a prospect’s attention. Which means if you’re a marketing professional or a business owner/leader who also wears the marketing hat, you have to be innovative on demand. Every day.
So how do you keep that kind of thinking on tap?
Play more: Teams that play together find it easier to hunker down and think differently when the need arises. By playing, I don’t mean that work doesn’t get done. But everyone needs to cleanse their mental palate every once in a while. And ironically, the busier you are and the more pressure the team is under, the more you need to play.
Think of some creative but completely disconnected from your day-to-day work games you can play in 15 minutes or less. At McLellan Marketing Group over the years, we’ve had office chair races, paper airplane building/flying contests, impromptu pingpong games and a recurring and ever-growing Mad Libs library. It doesn’t have to cost money (although a prize or trophy always inspires some competition) or require too much setup time.
Be sure your people know they not only have permission to play, but that it’s encouraged. If you set the example, before you know it, your team will take over and trigger their own playtime.
Ask better questions: When deadlines are looming or sales figures are faltering, it’s tough to pause to ask more questions. Your instincts are to hunker down and get it done.
But that’s the time when you really do need to hit the pause button and ask different questions. You have three key audiences to query: your team, your customers and people who stopped being your customers.
When it comes to your team, use them to do some visioning. How is your industry changing? What will five years bring? Ten? Have them make a list of things you sell that they believe will go away in that time frame. What will replace them?
Get your existing customers to dream a little. What else could you do for them? What would make working with your company even easier? When they brag about you (and if they don’t, that’s a red flag) what do they say?
Talking to those customers who walked away may be the most insightful of all. Find out why they left. You may need to get a third party to help you ask those questions to get candid answers.
Innovation isn’t going to happen if you keep doing the same things you’ve always done. Even if these ideas sound a little crazy, take some baby steps, and before you know it, you’ll be on the cutting edge.