How to inject innovation into business plans: A step-by-step guide

Business planning months are some of the busiest and most stressful times in the office. It’s time to celebrate the old but also inject energy and growth into the business. Senior management is eager to hear breakthrough, transformational ideas and strategies. This is where it gets tough. Just like authors get “writer’s block,” it’s normal for professionals to hit a wall when it comes to innovation. But when that presentation deadline approaches, we can’t use “innovator’s block” as an excuse. I remember sleepless nights before every planning period where I kept asking myself, “How can we do things differently?” I kept hoping, begging for that BIG IDEA to dawn on me. I had to come up with a better way. I knew there wasn’t a magic pill to help build that dream growth strategy. (I wish there were!) So, I took a deep breath and began with a three-step method that we continue to apply at The Green Room Collective to this day. Whether you are recruiting new consumer segments, entering new markets or categories, increasing customer satisfaction, coming up with an innovation pipeline, even looking for ways to have more productive and inspirational team meetings, there are three basic ways to approach innovation:

  • Clarify and Align
  • Inspire
  • Select, Prototype, Action

See the forest and clarify

The first step is all about finding that bull’s eye, the highest ROI opportunity for the business. Feels like the easiest step in innovation and the one that should take the least time. In every successful project that we do, we realize that the more time and resources we allocate to this phase, the better the outcome. The worst feeling is when you work so hard on a project only to realize that you were trying to solve for the wrong thing. It has happened to me a couple of times. It sucks but it’s a common blind spot for all of us. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. However, there are simple ways to rise above. Part of The Green Room Collective’s approach is to use the collective genius in your organization. How much time do you allocate to listen to your internal stakeholders versus your consumers? In our projects, we see that this ratio is nearly a 10-90 split in favor of understanding the consumer. I hate to be a cliché and quote Steve Jobs, but he was bang-on, at least where innovation is concerned. He said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” From a market research standpoint, he seemed to believe that the people who work for the company have incredible perspective. Nothing beats a quick one-on-one chat with the people in your business. I am talking about the people on the front lines, in finance, customer service, the call center, all the way up to senior management. In one of our recent projects, we did four different internal stakeholder interviews that only took an extra hour of our time. These interviews highlighted the opportunity, which ended up becoming the foundation of our brief. Clarifying is a straightforward and zero-cost investment that has a very high return on investment. Not doing so, and going with the perception of what the problem might be, can lead to being stuck between the trees and unable to see the forest.

It takes a village, so align

We are social creatures and depend on each other. It’s no different in a business setting. We cannot achieve project goals on our own, we need teams and management to turn ideas into action. Usually project investments, like research and planning, are done before getting the buy-in from key stakeholders. I recall once, as a big team, we spent lots of money and a year on a project before getting the buy-in. Since there was no buy-in, the project got scrapped by global management and we had wasted time and money. The team was crushed. As the project lead, I had all the support of upper management, and it turns out that we had totally missed our alignment with the global teams. If your goal is to bring a multitude of teams and moving parts together under one project, a 360-degree alignment is the precursor to success, and lack of it is a ticket to failure.

Get inspired

Imagine a typical brainstorming session in your office. What are the dynamics in play? Do the extroverts get the most say and do others just observe? Do you feel like all the ideas that come out of those sessions are things you already know? What about those breakthrough ideas? Why are those so tough to get to? It’s normal for brainstorming sessions to find us relying on our top-of-mind know-how. Studies by Sigmund Freud show that we store 88% of our knowledge in our subconscious, which is not top-of-mind. What an incredible mine to not have access to!

There are ways to avoid the everyday road blocks to your creativity that can inspire and stimulate your brain. Low to no-cost ways to get inspired could be as simple as holding your business planning sessions outside the office where participants have can have impromptu consumer interviews with passersby on the street or shop owners. Preferably pick a location where your target audience is nearby. Once we did a project in the hitoric district of an old city because the project was all about urban design. Our client mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised by the difference in perspective, and how this minor change of scenery was one of the insightful ways to generate new ideas.

Select, prototype, act

I was living in San Francisco when Uber and Lyft launched the Rideshare feature on their apps (UberPool and LftyLine respectively). The drivers were confused, the software was not working properly, and it was a bit chaotic. For a couple of weeks, they kept improving the day-to-day operations based on customer and driver feedback. Now, we all see how they continue to innovate by adding, changing and adapting to different markets and countries. They stick to innovative practices that work, and they drop those that don’t. Also, many Angel Investors follow a similar rule of thumb: Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket. They invest in 10 different startups knowing that perhaps only one will generate the return in investment. Why should it be different for innovation in a business setting? The key is to select the top ideas, prototype immediately and improve on or drop as you go along. One key thing to remember is to keep a record of all the findings and failures. These become great inspiration and data for the next opportunity that could be waiting right around the corner.

One last step: How we do it at TGRC

Following business planning projects, we do with our clients, and right before we present the strategy and execution of ideas to the decision makers, we always hold live consumer sessions to share prototypes. This exercise achieves two goals:

  1. Do a reality check. Teams tend to fall in love with their own ideas, and this exercise is a great “moment of truth” for them. It comes right before the ideas are pitched to decision makers, and before lots of money is spent on concept tests and research. In one of our last projects, the idea we had thought would be the breakthrough concept turned out to be a bust. And oddly enough, another idea that we hadn’t paid much attention to emerged as the shining star and went on to become a key strategic pillar.
  2. Use consumer-relevant language. Whether we like it or not, we all tend to use business jargon while expressing concepts. Consumers are so articulate and can usually express the idea so much better. This simplicity helps us position the idea in a successful way that increases buy-in and alignment.

Do these steps apply to your business planning process? Feel free to share these ideas with your teams and see how they help inject innovation into your business planning cycle.

To learn more about how you can inject innovation into your business and turn ideas into action, contact us.