The first step in the journey of innovation is usually said to be a brainstorm. But is it? As Jeffrey Baumgartner says in his newsletter ‘Report 103’ (http://www.jpb.com/report103/index.php) many of these sessions generate “best ideas” that look good but are pretty safe.
Take the rise of digital cameras. The first prototypes produced very low quality images and, Baumgartner notes, “If people in the film industry were asked ten years ago, which is better – improved film or digital images, they would have said “improved film”.” And they would, of course, have been wrong. Breakthrough ideas, he says, “cannot be directly compared to existing notions”. And it is these ideas – from the Model T Ford to the iPod – that transform their company’s performance.
The other drawback, Baumgartner suggests, is that brainstorming sessions can generate so many ideas it is hard to decide which ones to pursue. In an approach Baumgartner calls “anti-conventional thinking”, he proposes that companies focus on one really big idea and, by questioning, debating, criticising and improving that proposal, develop it in such detail that the “meeting can produce a step-by-step action plan, defining what needs to be done to implement the idea”.
Sounds simple – when it obviously isn’t. But this, Baumgartner suggests, is what scientists do. They gather a lot of information, formulate a single thesis and test it. If that doesn’t work, they revise that hypothesis and try again.
This process is obviously more unpredictable – and may seem initially more costly and time-consuming – but it might generate the big idea that drives your revenue up.