April 16, 2010

I find it strange that most companies don’t focus on developing some form of uniqueness. To separate yourself from the pack you need to do something different. Most companies seem to want to standout, but they try to do so by following the latest trend in their industry. This path is me-too thinking, as generally everyone is taking it.

Another challenge with uniqueness is getting your employees to recognize that it only matters if the uniqueness is valuable to customers. Ask the people you work with what the company can do to be innovative and you’ll likely get some very stale ideas, followed by something completely off the wall ideas that are completely unrelated to the customer you serve.

You develop uniqueness through innovation. Innovation is a highly misunderstood concept. I worked at one company that was very process driven, and they attempted to put in an “innovation process”. It was like they thought they could bottle it. The process did more to stifle innovation than it did to foster it.

The first thing you have to realize is that a good idea can occur at anytime and can come from anyone. Don’t assume the people with the titles will be the innovative thinkers. In reality their job is to spot the innovative idea when it emerges and to prioritize it highly.

One method I’ve used to get the creative juices going is brainstorming. I like to keep it simple, I always start out by talking about customer needs, and then try to get others to engage in how we better serve them. Once they get the feel for the openness of the conversation they engage.

I did this a year or so ago with a group in Germany. I’ve been told that Germans can be very difficult to engage in a brainstorming conversation, but I got one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long time from the group. If you get people to drop their guard and think in terms of customer value, you’ll be surprised by the good ideas that just popup.

The leaders job is to recognize the good ideas, capture them, and then make sure people focus on making them a reality. My belief is the execution is the hard part. There are an abundance of good ideas out there if you know how to look for them, just open your eyes.


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