What does your business do to keep finding new ideas and staying ahead of your competitors?
I’ve been picking up all sorts of tips in the last two weeks. First was a new Innovation Club at Bradford University School of Management – I was asked to help get this going. We started with a small dinner to see if businesses were interested …. and goodness, they were!
Dr Nigel Lockett, who heads up innovation at the School, has been working with Pace, Hallmark and Premier Farnell on innovation management and they had asked if they could meet each other and share ideas.
The dinner was interesting because we all agreed that ‘innovation’ sounds like a big idea, whereas what businesses really want can be a lot of small ideas. Everyone wanted to go and see what others were dong – so they are pairing up and coming back in May.
We’ve set everyone a task for these visits. They have to identify where they think the source of innovation is at each business; what they see as possible barriers to innovating and what they think are good ideas to take back to their companies.
John Foster of Fosters Bakery, was one of the guests at the dinner. Everyone loved what the bakery had done – bringing four food students from Singapore Polytechnic to shadow and challenge their senior managers for six weeks. As John said, people from a completely different culture keep asking ‘why do you do this?’ and some of it makes you stop and think – why?!
You could see everyone round the table thinking about how they could do something similar. Last week John invited a number of businesses to look round their bakery and see how they innovate – truly inspirational. See just a few of their ideas.
What do we do in our own business? From early on, we decided to stay small – we like the hands-on, personal client relationships. But if you aren’t growing and taking on new people all the time, there is a danger of becoming complacent and stale – or that we all start thinking like each other.
So here are some of our tips for innovating
- 1. Once a year we hold our business planning day. We pay for an outside facilitator to run the day and question and challenge us. We pay for our key freelancers to join us so they are part of the team
- 2. We look for opportunities for team members to develop their skills outside of work. We are currently supporting Carol Arthur as regional chair of the CIPR; I am a Prince’s Trust mentor and sit on a number of boards
- 3. We support lots of charities and always pick up good idea – the third sector is highly innovative
- 4. We identify skills we need, take out a half day and pay for an expert to come in and train us – last year we brought in several people on social media
- 5. No idea is daft. And the best ideas are nicked from others – and done better! We all bring in cuttings, mail-drop leaflets, brochures, ideas that we have heard on the radio that we think are good. We share them at weekly team meetings – sometimes we can see a direct link for a specific client, other times we file them in our ‘good ideas’ box.
We’d love to hear your tips and ideas to share with others.