MT Expert - Innovation: Coming up with great ideas

With 2012 likely to see continued tough trading conditions, many businesses' futures hinge on finding new products and solutions, says Andy Reid.

by Andy Reid
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
Innovation - it's the holy grail. It’s what we’re all in search of. Looking for new ways of doing things, finding fresh solutions to problems, creating new products. All businesses need to be innovative, whether to provide a point of difference against the competition or just to retain market share. In a crowded market with an abundance of similar offerings, innovating a new product or service can deliver that competitive edge. It’s what my own marketing agency Strange & Dawson is constantly engaged in: coming up with fresh ways to help our clients acquire new customers and looking at new solutions for exploiting data trends. It keeps us on our toes and also means we can keep on delivering to our clients.

But while every business recognises the need for innovation, of course there is no guaranteed formula to deliver it. At Strange & Dawson we work with many innovative companies, one of the biggest being Google, well known for its policy of encouraging staff to spend 20% of their time on their own projects. Called ‘Innovation Time Off’ it requires Google engineers to spend one hour on a side project for every four hours they spend on a company project. It’s claimed that Google’s ad platform, AdSense, was conceived in this way – and it’s an idea that’s been responsible for millions of dollars in revenue since. Like every good innovator, Google has succeeded in creating solutions that we didn’t even know we needed, with new tools for advertisers being added the whole time - testimony to Google’s innovative muscle.

What Google knows is the truth that for many of us, innovation moments arise when we’re actually not trying. However hard businesses attempt to create innovation in a boardroom or brainstorm, much of it happens by accident. 3M famously invented the Post-It note when two ideas happened to collide: one person developed the science for the peel and stick ability, another delivered the application to use it for sticky notes. And at Google it’s said that random thoughts Larry Page had about how long it would take to map the country while gazing through an aeroplane window led to ‘StreetView’.

So try creating the space and culture to liberate your organisation to come up with those killer ideas that just might become game-changers for your industry. It’s not only critical for your business but also for your own career: many senior managers and marketers will need to demonstrate innovation as a personal KPI in 2012. While, admittedly, 20% of time on innovation is unrealistic for most small businesses – particularly in such a tough climate – you still need to find an innovation strategy that works for you.  Maybe it’s a Friday out of the office once a month, or perhaps the daily commute will yield some inspiration from the train window in the same way Larry Page did from the aeroplane?

It’s important to decide which currency works for your business and your people. Okay, so you may not be able to create innovation on on a Google-like scale, but make sure you’re committed to making it happen in 2012.

- Andy Reid is MD of acquisition agency Strange & Dawson

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