By Steve Sponseller, entrepreneur.com
Do you have people in your organization who say they aren’t creative? Maybe you’re even one of those people.
But don't buy into this idea, because everyone is capable of developing innovative ideas, even those who say they are not “creative.” In my work with clients, I am frequently asked how to generate innovative ideas. And what I reply is that toidentify seeds of innovation you can cultivate, you should examine the problems to be solved, and the unmet needs in your company or industry.
Those seeds of innovation provide a powerful starting point for developing the valuable innovations that will increase your revenue and market share. Once you know how to recognize them, you can discover these innovation seeds in every part of your organization.
Your sales department
Your sales team members should be able to identify seeds of innovation during their daily interactions with customers and potential customers. The salespeople can identify missing product features that customers request and that may already be provided by a competitor.
Direct customer interaction by members of the sales team provides valuable feedback regarding desired features, favorite product attributes and other issues. This information can help your company develop innovative new features that distinguish your products in the marketplace.
An observant sales group also identifies how customers use products. I have worked with many clients who learned about customer actions from interactions between the salespeople and customers. In many instances, the customer actions showed inefficiencies in the product.
These inefficiencies then became "innovation seeds" which, during brainstorming sessions, grew into product revisions that made the product more user-friendly and increased the product’s value to potential customers.
Your customer service
Your customer service department is also capable of discovering a variety of problems through customer complaints and other customer feedback. Problems reported by one customer are likely to be experienced by many customers.
Solving these problems can improve customer satisfaction and reduce product returns. Customer service representatives can identify common problems customers experience. These common problems provide valuable opportunities to improve the product, instructions for the product and product packaging to provide an overwhelmingly positive customer experience.
Your marketing department
Your marketing team maintains a close watch on the markets for your organization’s products or services. By monitoring industry trends, as well as larger worldwide trends, the marketing group can identify potential problems (more innovation seeds!) these trends inspire. Early identification of these problems gives your company an opportunity to be first-to-market with a solution.
The marketing team also watches for new developments in competing products and monitors market sentiment regarding product features. I have helped many companies develop systems for identifying and tracking this information, which provides innovation seeds capable of developing into product enhancements that strengthen the company’s position in the market.
Your product development group
The team involved with product development is commonly tasked with developing creative ideas. As a product is developed and tested, team members identify potential problems or inefficiencies in the product design.
Some of these problems or inefficiencies are handled during initial product development, while others become innovation seeds that grow into subsequent innovations incorporated into future versions of the product. The product development team is also instrumental in helping develop solutions to problems other groups identify in the organization.
Everyone else, from the CEO to the custodian
Industry publications, news stories and trends are great sources for innovation seeds. Everyone in the company can keep watch for information regarding problems or unmet needs in the company’s market. Your employees should be encouraged to identify and record any news article or social media post related to the relevant market.
Examples of sources include industry commentators, product review articles, and social media comments -- all of which provide critical information useful in developing new products or improving existing products. An unmet need in the market is a powerful innovation seed that can assist in developing market-leading products.
In the end, every member of your organization can actively participate in the generation of valuable ideas. Start the flow of ideas today by showing people how to identify the seeds of innovation in front of them, and then use those seeds to develop profitable ideas that accelerate your business' growth.