7 Ways to Find Ideas for Your Business Innovations

One of the concepts we use to help get the right innovations into the development process easily and quickly is something I call an innovation platform. An innovation platform defines your product and customer vision precisely enough to use as a filtration model and focal point for incoming ideas and technologies. I’ve often said, if innovation is the answer, then what is the question? In this case, it’s the innovation platform.

 An innovation platform is like a conventional marketer’s produce platform, except it has current and future products in mind. The following Peter Drucker-styled questions help frame an innovation platform:

  1.  What is our business?

2.    Who are our customers?

3.    How do we create value for those customers?

I find that most organizations do not have a well-defined platform, that is, a wish list of what they want to create for their customers. Without such a platform, you cannot be really open, and you can’t automate filtration. You have to know what you want!

I know that sounds ridiculously simple, but it’s surprising that when I interviewed over 200 companies in researching this book, 70 percent of them did not have a formal innovation platform. It’s like a personal goal – how do you achieve a goal that you don’t know that you have?

With a proper innovation platform you can create filters to apply to ideas and technologies. Those filters use what we call toggles. Like the name implies, toggles are a go/no-go switch that determines whether a technology should move forward. The toggles can be applied not only to internal innovations but also external ideas.

Innovation platforms not only keep your innovation efforts focused on the right products, they are also designed to simultaneously promote speed — a fast, fluid, smart system that is driven by time. They also take a lot of risk and wasted effort out of the initial stages of the innovation process.

The first item out of the toolbox is what I call “Find.” Now the idea of “Find,” or “Fast Find” is easy to understand, easy to use and implements tools that can be deployed in different ways by different companies. The main point is, in order for you to succeed, you must access technologies. You access technologies from two sources: the outside world, and inside your corporate walls.

There are all told, seven ways to “find” new technologies and ideas for your business:

  1.  External Innovation portals. External innovation portals are tools that allow outside contributors – innovators or customers – to submit or “push” their ideas to your organization. Typically they contain some filtering mechanisms to capture only the most valuable ideas.

2.  Internal Innovation portals. Internal portals are like external portals except that they are for employees and others inside the walls of your organization.

3.  Captive R&D. This is the “traditional” source for ideas and technologies – your own internal R&D or product development department.

4.  ”Project Xs” are stimulative simulations in the form of ersatz competitors. By creating competitive companies and observing what they would do to compete with your business, you can learn more about what you should do yourself.

5.  Frontline innovation initiatives are campaigns that allow frontline employees – those with the most direct customer touch – to submit their ideas, from their experiences or customer knowledge, into the innovation process.

6.  Innovation safaris. As I have discussed before, these are team voyages into the customer world usually done by product development and higher level management personnel, to observe customer behavior, learn needs and eventually develop ways to address those needs through “ideation” sessions.

7.  Micro-crowdsourcing campaigns are usually done in conjunction with external innovation portals, but are specific idea generating campaigns done with carefully selected “micro-crowds,” or segments, of the external idea and technology providing world. It is a focused version of the more general “crowdsourcing” concept.


 “Closed” organizations have become extremely adverse to external innovation, and have developed a variety of ways to “punish” anyone who would like to submit an innovation to them. Great companies like Procter & Gamble have developed online submission portals that include explanatory videos that make it easy for anyone to submit an idea or technology to them. Online submission portals are a great way to not only get ideas, but they are a great way to open up your organization to the outside world and do some “carpet time” with your customers – to learn what they’re thinking; to learn what they want.



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