A business and innovation consultant who also does training recently said that he had found after running over 100 structured group brainstorming sessions that it takes some time to warm up before quality ideas start to flow. He believes that in group brainstorming innovative ideas start to occur after about 25 minutes while in one-on-one sessions the lead time is about one hour and 15 minutes.
This is not a surprising finding. It’s a well known phenomenon that it takes time for the creative imagination to warm up. You can’t just expect to say now I need ideas and for them to pop up in your mind. Once the mind starts combining ideas, cross pollinating concepts and looking at problems from different perspectives, new solutions start to emerge. Continue reading “How long does it take before promising ideas pop up?”
Innovation is about challenging even long-standing, tried and tested or cherished beliefs. But are we really prepared to throw out the window what we know and try something new?
Take brainstorming. For years brainstorming meetings have been held where there are grave warnings that no criticism is allowed. The no-criticism rule has been sacrosanct to encourage participants to open up and offer their ideas in a friendly atmosphere.
A company relied on one business line to carry it through the digital camera revolution. Other digital camera makers and then cell phone manufacturers made the market too fiercely competitive. The company tried one big thing– to use its chemical know-how in film to produce pharmaceuticals but did not succeed. The company: Kodak.
Out of the blue a business person was told that he was no longer needed at the company which he worked for. His one source of income was cut overnight. Unable to get a job again, he dabbled in this and that but could not create a regular source of income.
A successful entrepreneur invested most of his money in one asset class – property. Over the years property became virtually worthless after political upheavals in the country where he lived. He’s broke now … living on family handouts.
Sobering stories. All demonstrate a common lesson. If you rely on one thing, you could put yourself at serious risk. Number one can be a dangerous number: one income source, one product line, one large customer, one key supplier, one marketing approach, one investment class, one source of electricity (for on-line marketers with no offline presence).
Here’s an example of a business that has placed small bets not on one income source but several. The business owner runs an up-market restaurant, accommodation for tourists and a car wash.
Some people start other income streams of income by buying a second-hand business or franchise. Although a reputable business or franchise minimises risk, the cash outlay needs to be repaid over a number of years.
Why not try come up with something of your own?
Could you take a hobby or sideline business and turn it into something that could provide you with an additional source of income?
You could try brainstorming three ideas a day for the next 30 days. Or you could try other idea generation techniques to stimulate your thinking: freewriting, random words, word combining, mind mapping or a simple nature walk.
Whittle your ideas from your list down to the most promising three. Evaluate which ones would work best in the marketplace.
Test your best idea with a small trial market to assess demand. Make sure that your business idea satisfies a real need with customers.
In this economy, it’s risky to rely on any one thing – take a first step to avoid becoming a statistic.
A “perfect” family moves into an upper middle-class neighborhood, invites their neighbours over and proudly shows them the products they’ve bought from high-tech toys and designer clothes to luxury cars.
Perfect couple Steve and Kate Jones, and their gorgeous teen-aged children Jenn and Mick, are all in it together – they’ve signed up as professional product promoters.
Unsuspecting, envious, neigbours buy high-tech golf clubs, high-priced jewels and gourmet food to keep up with the “The Joneses”.
Soon some of their buying behaviour starts to have tragic consequences.
“The Joneses” is a movie that shows the fictive world of stealth marketing gone crazy.
Stealth or undercover marketing involves inducing consumers to buy without realizing they are being marketed to.
Small businesses wouldn’t stoop at using such dubious techniques but with their biggest problem being weak consumer spending they need to find out more about their customers – why they are not buying and, when they do, what kinds of purchases are they making.
Formal market “research” – focus groups, interviews, questionnaires — costs a lot of money. You don’t want to do that if you’ve got a small business.
To get a better handle on what your market wants and needs generate ideas on how to find out your customers’ problems, how they use your products and what keeps them from buying more from your business.
You’ll get a better understanding of the realities your customers face when you get out and listen to them. You may find opportunities to better serve them, which could mean more business for you.
By taking time out to talk to your customers and observe them, you may find that they need associated products and services that you may not have thought about.
Knowing your market, what your customers want and their changing needs, is what all small business people need to know.
Especially when sales are down and could slow some more.
But how often do we assume we know what’s best for our customers, try outguess them and arrogantly decide what they should buy?
To keep in touch with what customers need, want and desire you have to get into their world and understand their problems.
Put your ladder against the wrong wall and you may have a long climb.
A business consultant’s life isn’t easy. Carla (not her real name) had a problem. “What businesses should I be in?” It was the question that had haunted her for the past few months. Was it the right question?
She was asking the question from the perspective of that familiar trap: coming up with an idea for a product or business that suits the entrepreneur’s technical skills and inclinations but ignoring the reality of the marketplace.
Carla faced the most difficult question of her business life.
What was she to do?
When markets are down, consumers are not spending and business formulas that worked in the upturn are being shattered like skittles in a bowling alley, it’s difficult to have clarity. But clearness of vision is exactly what is required. How does a businessperson know where to position their ladder when so many walls are crumbling and some collapsing?
Trend spotting, distinct from forecasting, an unreliable and inaccurate “science” at best, is a tool to clear away the clutter and focus on more certain bets.
“But I’m just interested in getting my business to grow,” Carla said in frustration. “Don’t talk to me about trends. I’ve seen so many just come and go.”
What Carla was describing was fads, which are very different. We’ve all seen fads appear like night flies and disappear as quickly. Can anyone still remember low-carb diets, Doc Martins, digital pets and tongue piercing?
As business people, we need to find trends that are big enough and sustainable for a long time. We need to be like surfers looking for a giant wave or even a tsunami that we can ride on and on for a long time. We can’t catch shore dumpers that roll in, break and are gone in an instant. We need something more substantial.
The biggest and most obvious trend is economic growth. “But look where that is now,” Carla said. Even economic upswings sometimes only last up to three to five years. Nobody talks anymore about the “long boom”.
The problem is that economic growth is too big a target. If we are to become more effective in trend spotting, we need to narrow our focus. We also can’t merely look at different consumer or industrial markets and place bets on them. Just consider general consumer spending and see how it expands and shrinks.
We need to pinpoint exactly where we want to place our bets. Because much depends on it, our lives, our reputations our income for our families. Hindsight might be looked at cynically as a perfect science but it does give us insights. If you were to pick the most robust trends over the past 20 years, what would they be?
Carla took out her Moleskin notebook and listed her top five:
1 Home entertainment.
2 Health foods
4 Convenience foods
Videos and computer games have had a long run. Just imagine the owners of video stores– those who took a bet on the home entertainment trend. They are now in their second decade and are smiling, driving smart cars and wearing open-necked brand-name T-shirts.
“The question,” I said to Carla, “is what are the next trends?”
She frowned, looked at me with disbelief and said, “How am I to know?”
“I would read newspapers, magazines, reports, sift through the data, badger insiders until I see a pattern emerging.”
Carla came back to our next meeting with a list of what she believed would be the top five megatrends over the next few years. She showed me her list:
2 Green products and power
3 The senior market
4 Health and wellness
There were some that I would have liked to put on her list but I resisted the temptation. Personal computing had been a 30-year wave with many facets to it and had morphed into various forms up until today where we virtually have computers in our pockets. The Internet had spawned a new breed of businesses that seemed unimaginable only 20 years ago.
“These trends that you’ve identified are like rich veins of gold that will most likely be around for a long time,” I said. “Though we don’t have a crystal ball we can be reasonably certain that your list represents profitable areas for further exploration.”
Just remember that for some movements there will be a countertrend and further opportunities. For example, while people might like fast food and convenience today there’s also a slow-food movement gaining momentum. You won’t find the slow-food markets in the high-end retail spaces but look around in your city and you’ll find them in rehabilitated old buildings. A growing number of people, dissatisfied with the mass-produced food they find at their local supermarkets, are traipsing into these markets on weekends and stocking up on produce for the week.
Carla was excited. She was going to explore the area of pets and see if she could come up with an idea to make life easier for pet owners. “Just imagine the size of the market,” she said. “It’s growing and it covers millions of people. If I could just get something in there. What do I do next?”
Trend spotting and analysis is one of the ways to look beyond the obvious and find opportunities for the future that are sustainable and where you can focus for a number of years. A growing trend gives you much more substance that you can bet your future against.
The next step in any entrepreneurial business person’s evolution is to brainstorm and research a particular trend and see where your skills, inclinations, passion, passion and experience can be applied to either coming up with new products and services, educational materials, coaching, teaching, consulting, to serve the needs of the market. It’s also a good idea to look at some of the problems of consumers in these markets and see how you could better serve their needs. Take the cost of pet ownership. It’s not only about food but also veterinary services that are ever escalating. Pet insurance was one of the innovative products a few years ago to better serve pet owners by guarding against exhorbitant medical bills.
But what’s next? Whatever it is, markets are awaiting for new ideas to make consumers lives easier, lower the costs of ownership and to increase their convenience and enjoyment.
Trend spotting is a fundamental building block in the process of producing ideas for profit.
Copyright 2010 Bell & Cray Business Research™. This excerpt has been used by special permission from Bell & Cray Business Consulting™. Bell & Cray Business Consulting™ and Bell & Cray Research are both divisions of Bell & Cray™. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be duplicated or re-disseminated without permission.