CHRIS GRIFFITHS, CEO OF OPENGENIUS, A COMPANY THAT SPECIALISES IN APPLIED INNOVATION TRAINING AND SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS, EXPLAINS HOW TO APPLY EFFECTIVE INNOVATION IN BUSINESS
Over the years I’ve worked with businesses from around the world, from start-ups to FTSE 100 companies, whose rules and bureaucracies have held them back from adapting to the changing dynamics of their marketplaces.
Despite spending time and money on implementing change, whether it’s improving customer relations or adding new products and services, they experience little or no improvement. These failed attempts at implementing innovative strategies can have a more damaging effect than not being innovative at all. If rules are never open to investigation or challenge, how can you ever break new ground? How can you see the merits of other approaches when you’re not free to look for them?
Businesses are failing to implement innovation because they have become overly accepting of rules. Without us even knowing, we are locked into a pattern of thinking that can cut our opportunities short and ensnare us with the attitude: ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’
For example, when Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic he went into competition with the already established American Airlines, British Airways and Pan Am. His competitors had rigid class structures, with an excellent service for first class passengers, decent for business class and basic for economy. Branson broke the mould by giving first class service to business class passengers and gave perks to his economy passengers, such as free drinks.
Established companies are intent on sticking to the rules that keep them operating, so they forget to be creative. Newcomers enter an industry with a fresh perspective and aren’t scared to break the rules.
The premise of ‘reversing the challenge’ is simple. You take your problem and use its opposite as a trigger for new ideas. So if you’re struggling to find ways to get more customers, find ways to lose them instead. Some of your solutions might be not answering the telephones or giving customers the wrong advice.
The final step of this exercise is to reverse the solutions to see if they relate back to the original problem. For example, maybe you could provide extra training for your customer service operatives to improve their product knowledge and handling of customers.
While this might sound bizarre, recognising the actions you want to avoid gives you better scope to find more interesting alternatives for getting the results you want — from the obvious to the downright radical.
Some of our most creative thinking has come through breaking the rules. As the saying goes, rules are made to be broken or at the very least they can be cleverly circumnavigated. If you’re trying to generate new ideas, you’ve got to be flexible. You’ve got to experiment and explore.