A proven approach to making giant leaps forward in innovation26 September, 2014 / Articles
When thinking about innovation, companies often focus efforts on incremental improvements. While continual betterment makes sense to a certain degree, it doesn’t paint a full picture of what’s actually happening, and it certainly doesn’t protect behemoths from being overthrown by their scrappy startup counterparts. Instead, we all need to be thinking of step-function gains, which become game-changers. Blockbuster didn’t lose because its stores carried 100,000 or 150,000 copies – that incremental difference didn’t matter – but because Netflix came in, disrupted the movie rental model with its streaming format. Most of us are too scared to think up the big “leap forward” ideas, and yet, these are the very concepts that are transforming our world every day.
So with that in mind, I challenge you to give your incremental thinking a rest and dare to let yourself explore the possibilities from the fringe. There’s a technique I like to use to encourage this sort of thought process, called edge-storming. Here’s how it works… During a brainstorming session, explain to your team that you want them to go all the way to the edge. Any idea may be brought forth, but only if it’s the most extreme version of its spectrum. What’s the most expensive way we can set up our pricing? The absolute cheapest? What’s the idea to reach the most people? The fewest? Take an idea all the way to the edge. You can always backpedal and figure out a way to make an idea viable, but unless you’re allowing your brain to go “all the way,” you’ll only ever be able to think incrementally. If that’s the case, the world is missing out on so much.
A perfect example of this edge-storm in action is the brilliance of Cirque du Soleil. This performing troupe completely redefined what it means to be a circus, what it feels like to be an audience member at a circus, and what kind of venue hosts a circus. If you had thought about then-market-leader Barnum and Bailey and ways to incrementally improve upon their model, you might come up with an added elephant, or a new clown routine perhaps. Instead, the team at Cirque du Soleil took the circus concept all the way to the edge – on many fronts. Audiovisual and lighting techniques looked like a rock concert, while venues changed from peanut-shell-strewn big top floors to the fanciest theaters in the world. As for the performance, there aren’t any little clown cars to be found in a Cirque show – instead, there are incredible acrobatics, water features, music and dance. All of these elements come together for a new version of a circus that doesn’t even remotely resemble Barnum and Bailey, any more than Netflix looks the way Blockbuster did.
Here’s a clue – you’ll always need incremental improvements to help refine your product or service. However, refinement doesn’t solve the world’s problems. True innovation does. So, let yourself go to the edge; I can’t wait to see what you bring back with you.