How Smart Companies Will Generate Winning Ideas in the Future
Michael Simpson focuses on the future of insight and idea generation, the starting point of the innovation process, and provides three observations of how “smart companies” will generate and identify winning insights and ideas in the future, in a context of a much tougher economic and environmental climate.
This article was written for a book called “The Future of Innovation”, a compilation of articles and contributions by academics and innovation practitioners. Visit http://www.thefutureofinnovation.org for more information. This contribution focuses on the future of insight and idea generation, the starting point of the innovation process, and provides three observations of how “smart companies” will generate and identify winning insights and ideas in the future, in a context of a much tougher economic and environmental climate.
1. Smart companies will continue to stay focused on meeting the consumer desire for new ideas and “new news”. This provides a way of maintaining long-term market strength, especially during an economic downturn. This focus was certainly a factor in the success of companies such as L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble during the last significant recession. These businesses grew market share by maintaining investments in innovation research for priority projects, and by investing in the launch of new products and services, at a time when media costs were relatively inexpensive. However, given the economic pressures and greater levels of consumer austerity, it will become even more critical for smart companies to take time to define their strategic focus to ensure that their innovation efforts are truly centred on consumer needs and insights.
2. Smart companies will employ new virtual tools and technologies to generate ideas from a broader pool of creative talent in a fast and cost effective way. This will be the case especially for businesses that want to maximise their internal creative talent and have teams located in different markets. Traditional brainstorming methods of flying people into one location have become increasingly expensive, time consuming and environmentally unsound. New virtual tools have been enabled by Web 2.0 technologies and will allow innovation teams to generate new ideas against a focused objective from a much broader base of employees, rather than limiting the activity to a small, marketing function. This approach is one of the winning philosophies captured in Karl Albrecht’s “The Power of Minds at Work” and is the driving force behind the 2009 launch of the virtualHOTHOUSE®, a new on-line innovation tool that is being used by leading companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Reckitt Benckiser and PepsiCo. The new tool allows innovation teams in different markets to generate, refine and evaluate new insights and ideas against specific innovation objectives. The obvious extension of this approach is to use new virtual tools to “outsource” idea generation, working directly with consumers as demonstrated by Dell’s IdeaStorm, or to use social networking groups to generate ideas with trend experts, creative consumers or in direct partnership with small technology companies. In addition to on-line tools, smart companies will look to exploit the dot.mobi revolution as a way of engaging more effectively with consumers to quickly test and gain feedback to new ideas via wide screen, smart phone platforms.
3. Smart companies will generate and test ideas that are environmentally sound. There is a danger that the current economic downturn will force many organisations to lose sight of the longer term challenges faced by climate change. This could lead to a failure to invest in developing the ideas and products that will meet longer term consumer needs, or that fail to meet more stringent climate change targets being imposed on manufactures in the developed and developing world. This was certainly true in the case of the American car industry that failed to invest in the thinking and innovation to develop more energy efficient cars. As a consequence, they saw a huge erosion of their market share as the more energy-efficient cars produced in Europe and Japan overtook them. We believe that this “watch out” applies equally to other industry sectors and sets the imperative for all manufacturers to apply new thinking to generate ideas that will not only meet consumers’ short term needs, but that will help us all to “save the planet”