Getting to and Making New Ideas

In creative commerce, ideas are currency. Whether it’s an old guard agency merging with a brand consulting firm, a management consultancy spreading its wings into creativity, or an internal product development team, the pressure to innovate today is unrelenting.

This fall, I’ve been teaching two strategy-related courses in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism: Strategic Communications and Account Planning/Creative Strategy. In both courses, we talk about innovation tools to help get to new ideas quickly. Much existing ink is out there on theories of innovation and why innovation is vital to businesses (see The Ten Faces of Innovation, Evolve or Die, Clay Christensen, The Lean Startup for starters). After this foundation, it’s natural to get more and more into the practical side — tools, processes, and ‘how-to’s’ for getting to new ideas.

And at the same time we’re covering innovation in my courses, a couple of friends have reached out on the topic of practical innovation as well. In the spirit of sharing and collaboration, here are the highlights of those exchanges:

Value Proposition Design is one of the best beginning-to-end innovation book available today. It’s theoretical yet practical. Challenging yet fun to read. The book covers innovation all the way from how to generate ideas to testing and learning.

See also: the Big Pad of 50 Blank, Extra-Large Business Model Canvases and 50 Blank, Extra-Large Value Proposition Canvases. I recently used an extra-large Value Proposition Canvas in a meeting with pharmaceutical clients, and it inspired a shift in their thinking to be more about the customer than it had originally been — this is where the Value Proposition Canvas tool is most useful. You could also easily design a large Canvas yourself on a whiteboard or poster.

The team at Google pulled together a practical book looking at every detail of their product design process in Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. This process is hard to do well and will take a fully-committed team, but it’s worth the intense effort.

Traction will help a team think through how to get a product or service to market quickly. This is one of the most practical, how-to guides on media that’s been written. The folks at Zapier pulled together highlights of the various media channels covered in the book.

To learn a design thinking process or teach it to teams that are stuck, there’s almost nothing better than this gift-giving design thinking workshop from Stanford’s d school. The facilitator’s guide and participant’s guide are so helpful in running a two-hour session on design thinking. A quick trip to Michael’s or A.C. Moore will help you find all the supplies you need for the prototyping at the end of the two hours — the most inspiring part of the whole process! After a short intro by the moderator on what design thinking is, these are two hours well-spent to help a company think differently.

Two of my favorite items to show in the design thinking workshop intro:

1) GE Design Thinking example - making MRI machines less intimidating for children. This TED Talk will give you all the background you need to share this example in a meeting. You could select specific images or just show the highlights in a workshop setting:

2) A simple visual of the design thinking process - to show how it all fits together:

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Last but not least, the Aha! Cards: Indispensable Insight Generation Toolkit from First The Trousers Then The Shoes Inc. are outstanding for helping teams find humanity again.

Let’s wrap with a quote from Clayton Christensen from one of his best books on the topic:

“Disruptive technologies typically enable new markets to emerge.” 
― Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

Josh Carlton is the Founder of 500THz, a boutique market research firm that delights in using creativity to solve business problems. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This post also appears on LinkedIn.

josh carlton