Innovation Thinking

"Innovation  thinking": Is that brainstorming or something else? If you've led sessions designed to get your  team to look at problems from new angles, to shed restrictions that suggest  that new ideas just won't work, or to speculate about new, off-the-wall  solutions that just might work, then you know how difficult those  sessions can be.

Customer intelligence: I always start with intelligence about  the market - - the problems, frustrations and challenges that customers face  every day and that they, or you, haven't been able to solve. From customers we can learn a lot about their  needs and about our relationships with them. As just one example, during interviews you might hear that you have a  serious service problem that is causing lots of customer dissatisfaction. "Innovation Thinking" can address that  problem too.

Innovation  accelerators: Brainstorming about problems is a good first step  to identify solutions but of course, there are a number of other methods as  well. I find several techniques  effective for breaking through the barriers to imagination e. g. design  thinking, scenarios, storytelling and others.

Team makeup: deciding who should participate is key. You want to include people whose knowledge, perspective and roles are  different because they will surface a variety of ideas. You want people from outside the core of  where the immediate problem resides because what they say will make the others  generate new suggestions or encourage them to add to an idea already on the  table. One of the first things I do with  the team is to help them to generate a lot of ideas. No one judges whether the ideas are good,  bad, repetitive or wonderful.  The goal  is to surface as many diverse ideas as possible, and that takes a team with  varied experience and points of view.

Criteria  for ordering ideas: I lead participants to agree on criteria for  putting ideas into high, medium or low priority categories. Those criteria, by the way, will be different  for each company because they will map closely to what it is you are trying to  achieve with "Innovation Thinking".

Open  Communication: I set the expectations and rules up front. Our objective is to generate as  many ideas as possible with no constraints, and that takes non-judgmental  participation and a sense of fun. Fun  helps us be more creative.

Managed  Process: I start by describing the process we will  use, which helps everyone focus and relax, knowing they don't have to judge or  parry ideas that they think are impractical.

The  Facilitator: I always say that I own the process. But the participants have the company  knowledge, they make the decisions jointly, they determine how to move forward  and they get the credit for success.

Years ago,  as a turn-around consultant, I learned that I don't need to be the expert in  everything because the guys running the steel mill (as an example) were the  experts in making steel. But they needed  me to help focus on improvement goals, negotiate assignments to test ideas,  manage a very closely timed process because it's just too easy to put off  commitments when innovation is needed - - whether to solve operating problems,  to jump-start revenues, or to conceive of a new service for customers.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Innovation thinking requires the outsider's  perspective - - outside perspective that is experienced and skilled, but someone  who can spur thinking, set the rules and manage the process to make sure the  team achieves what they set out to deliver.

I LEAD, TEST, COACH, TRAIN, and DELIVER: I work with  founders and CEOs to identify when "Innovation Thinking" is appropriate.  The challenge may be to create more engaging  products because there is a high abandonment rate, or to re-tool a service for  a new market, or to conceive of ways to make a field force more productive.   The problem doesn't matter because  "Innovation Thinking" works across all problems.

FOR LARGER ORGANIZATIONS, BUSINESS SCHOOLS,  ENTREPRENEUR PROGRAMS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCIES: I facilitate  group workshops "Innovating  Without Barriers" ™ to help organizations set new direction without shackles on their imagination, formed by customer feedback  and resulting in definition and debate about an effective business model. In this workshop, participants learn how to use their  understanding of market needs and customers to create new solution ideas, test  and validate them, and outline and debate a business model that gives substance  to the idea.

"Good Leaders Innovate" is an allied program, addressing the need and the power of leaders to create an environment that encourages innovation.

Testimonials

Great Results, Personable, Expert, High Integrity, Creative

Delivers results   "Your contribution to the company has been tremendous. You have helped us  to form an enterprise program, scope a market and open doors to key players in  the market. Your professionalism and integrity are unsurpassed in  my experience."

Leads Effectively  "The praise really goes to you -- for choosing us, organizing us, and keeping us on task  those many months." 

Inspires innovation  "Gail ran a two day workshop with our executive team to assist with some strategic product development initiatives. Gail was an excellent facilitator and we were thrilled with the ideas that were developed over the two days."

Easy to work with "Gail has been great to work with. She is very focused towards getting the results. I would highly recommend her."

Flexible roles  "Gail is as comfortable stepping into a company as an external advisor or mentor, as she is in taking the role of chief executive; leading business development and sales; handling corporate communications; spear-heading investor relations and making investor presentations."

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