10 Ways to Accelerate Your Search for New Ideas

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Exiting a wonderful new play last weekend in New York titled Familiar by Danai Gurira—she is also represented on Broadway now with Eclipsed—my friend said, "That plot reminded me of something else I just saw." We couldn't think of it but did agree that the three sisters of the play is also a common plot, as is bringing everyone together for an impending wedding.

Did that lessen our opinion or enjoyment of the play? Not at all. In a way you can say it heightened it, having something so fresh and dynamic emerge from something so, um, familiar. The dialogue felt true to the characters and the situations relatively plausible.

I recalled this today reading an article in Associations Now covering a talk by Andrew Boynton, dean of Boston College's Carroll School of Management, and author of The Idea Hunter. He told a conference crowd that "originality is dramatically overrated. Originality is not what innovation is all about. It's about finding an idea and getting on with it. Most innovations are combinations of old ideas, putting them into play to solve a problem related to your vision today." He encouraged listeners to "borrow and steal with pride."

Here are 10 suggestions for coming up with new ideas and products, the first five from Boynton:

1. You need vision, which creates focus. "Where do you want to be in two or three years in terms of adding value for members? What stake are you going to put in the ground? From that, what do you have to do to get there? Do you need different people... different technology?"

2. "We hire smart people, but in too many organizations we simply don't take advantage of what they bring to the table...," Boynton said. "So we hire all these great people and we dampen their energy. In any organization, we need to harness their collective IQ to generate great ideas to drive innovation."

3. Don't overvalue consensus—which in Boynton's mind is "the sire of mediocrity"—at the expense of innovative ideas that not everyone may agree on.

4. Commit to innovation as a process. In the way you manage other processes, you need a process for managing "idea flow," Boynton said. This would include: deadlines, clear goals and realistic constraints, teams with diverse skills and experiences, rapid prototyping, and great conversations, which are "how ideas move between smart knowledge professionals"

5. "Idea hunting is 24-7," Boynton said. "Always be hunting. Always have your tuner on."

6. Encourage and reward idea givers. "I don't think we have a shortage of creative ideas in the world," said Adam Grant, author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, "...where the shortage exists is that people don't know how to champion them."

7. Ask for quantity and creativity, not perfection, wrote Jill Geisler, author of Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know. "...if you ask people to come up with a few great ideas, they [may] self-censor, fearing their offerings aren't good enough. Ask them to conjure up lots of creative thoughts..."

8. Empower your staff (and yourself) to do more testing. Create a culture of experimentation. Many good lessons came out of the famous New York Times Digital Report a couple years ago. This was one of the more lasting ones: "Reward experimentation. Currently, the risk of failing greatly outweighs the reward of succeeding at The Times."

9. Install "sensors" to pick up customer ideas. Don't just look to employees for innovation—learn from your customers. They may have ideas for new products and new uses for existing products. Listen to their problems, uses and needs. Travelocity once installed a "lobby phone booth" where anyone in the company could listen in on customer service calls.

10. Seek a new environment for a couple days. I know that just being away for the weekend left me time to think more, read more and come back charged up a bit. Attending the Connectiv Executive Summit in Austin or SIPA's 40th Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. will be a good way to get out of your office routine and hear new ideas to, um, "borrow and steal with pride."

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…