Companies need to look inside not just outside for growth ideas

Most companies fail to capitalize on a powerful resource for growth ideas: their own people. I am not just talking about the heads of marketing, innovation or new product development. Great growth ideas can come from sales, accounting, legal – from anyone and anywhere within the organization. While this may sound a bit cliché, it is true. I am not diminishing the importance of external talent — including consultancies like us. What I am suggesting is that, figuratively and literally, every organization needs to tear down walls that constrict creative blood flow and find ways to capture ideas that can drive sustainable profitable growth. In James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds, he makes the point that “…under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” I have always believed in the power of group creativity and know that four hours can lead to groundbreaking ideas. Now, I know what you may be thinking: group thinking or ideation always seems to be a good idea but rarely leads to anything, except maybe coffee and sandwiches. Well, there are three keys to making an ideation session more than just a congenial get-together of co-workers.

1. Prepare rigorously. Make sure all workshop participants are well briefed on the current state of the business, category dynamics, competitive challenges, and consumer trends. Clearly define the goals and deliverables of the project and create a stimulating but relaxed environment where everyone feels comfortable to express their thinking without fear of criticism.

2. Stay on track. The facilitator needs to ‘lead’ not just ‘moderate’ the discussion. Like with fishing, they need to let the line out to give freedom to the conversation, but then tighten it up if the dialogue meanders.

3. Mine the output. All thoughts, insights and ideas from the session need to be synthesized rigorously. Like panning for gold, the marginal thoughts need to be washed away to reveal the nuggets of real value. In addition, all growth ideas captured in the workshop need to be evaluated against judgment criteria that the group develops and agrees to in order to determine which ideas or initiatives to invest in first.

So before you look outside for innovative thinking, try looking inside. Provide a forum to access the diverse talents, experience and perspectives of your own people to unearth unexpected growth ideas and initiatives. You will inspire and galvanize everyone on your staff in the process.

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