Leader tasked with coming up with new products is drawing a blank.
Q: I’m leading a task force to come up with new ideas for my company’s products, and I feel stuck in a rut. How can I get some fresh ideas to emerge? —Monique, 50, director, product development
A: When’s the last time you did something new? Or took a new approach to a familiar role?
It’s been my observation that many companies, when they’re trying to come up with new ideas, still put the same people together and have the same conversations they always have.
So let’s break loose! First of all, envision the knowledge sets, experiences and work styles your ideal team would include. Think in terms of the problem you’re trying to solve; if your task is to design products that appeal to millennials, you’ll likely miss the mark if all your task force members are in their 50s or 60s. And this often happens, as people with more experience tend to be tapped to be on these advisory groups.
If your group is already formed, take a look at its strengths, and also possible gaps and opportunities to improve it. You may find that some of the team composition doesn’t match your new vision. If the discrepancy is minor, you might be able to work with it by adding some folks with new perspectives. And the new approaches you will bring may reinvigorate some existing members.
But what if you realize that this team just isn’t the right group? You could reconfigure, either “excusing” some people or canceling the team and starting over. If you have red flags going up about possible political sensitivities with this approach, it’s a sign you’re thinking the right way. Consider the best way to handle this, given the dynamics at your company, and get advice from your boss or other mentors.
Turn next to the activities you do to generate new ideas. As a team, get away from looking within your industry. What’s happening across the full spectrum of your customers’ experiences? They’re not just thinking about their next purchase from you — they are shaped by all their experiences, from retail to banking to health care. Do you really understand their needs? Cast a wide net to build big new ideas; you can always trim later based on feasibility, cost and other factors.
None of this will be possible if you and the others on your team haven’t turned on your creative minds. So shake it up a bit. There are great resources for triggering more right-brain thinking; Daniel Pink’s book, “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” is one of my favorite resources. Pick an activity, and if doing something this out of the box scares you, that’s a good thing, and all the more reason to proceed. Face this anxiety; after all, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Remember, your company can’t afford the risk of not changing; you need to find the next new thing.
Fear of looking ridiculous prevents many good ideas from coming forward. Give your task force a new vision, new tools and a safe space, and great things can occur.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.