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How to capture good ideas every time

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With so much information flying around these days, it’s easy for good ideas to slip through the net. Roger La Salle highlights the importance of trawling deep and wide.

Have you ever worked in a company where the boss or your manager hordes information? Unfortunately, this is not all that uncommon. The old saying goes that “Knowledge is Power”, and those who are insecure in their abilities or feel threatened by those around them try to remain in control by hording information.

In fact, I know of one company where the Managing Director actually leaves notes lying around with incorrect or inaccurate information. The aim of this of course is to retain power by keeping the troops in the “dark” or, better still, confused. Can you believe that?

The question is: what’s your modus operandi?

Many businesses have embraced innovation and opportunity capture as an essential business tool to survive and win in this age of ever-increasing information flow, market intelligence and speed to market. There are many innovation/opportunity models, including that of so called “Open Innovation” and what is best described as internal or “Closed Innovation”.

Closed Innovation

In this case the company has all its innovation endeavours conducted and held tightly within, there is little sharing of knowledge and little interest in eliciting the assistance of outsiders to enhance their innovation initiative. Indeed the managers of these tightly controlled programs use their skills to drive the innovation program. Unfortunately, they may be missing a lot.

Open Innovation

In this case, though the business remains in control of its destiny and direction, it enhances its innovation initiative by making connections to a seemingly disparate groups of outsiders and companies all looking to expand their horizons by building on combined know-how.

These days, there are so many diverse technologies and specialties that it is simply impossible to grasp what is happening on all fronts — thus the connected model has great merit.

Connecting the dots

One of the great skills of clever entrepreneurs and innovators is to see the linkages between seemingly unrelated issues. This is where in the open innovation model, broadly-skilled technologists and open-minded thinkers come to the fore.

For example, suppose I run a lumber business. That is the business of cutting up trees to provide timber for the building industry. What possible connection does that have with mathematics? Perhaps none, you may think, or certainly the old-fashioned timber manager may have thought. But in fact linear programming (quite an old science these days), when employed in that industry, can optimise the way timber is cut to provide massive additional profits. But in the closed model, such knowledge may never be acquired. Or if it is, only by word of mouth with other operators who may have long since acquired the technique.

Similarly, the technologies developed in putting man on the moon. How could that possibly connect to the business of pots and pans? Teflon coating is the answer.

  • Clocks and cell phones or radio paging — is there a connection? Indeed there is. Imagine having a clock equipped with a radio receiver to receive time signals and thus keep perfect time, and even update for Summer Time changes. Such clocks are now available in Australia.
  • The packaging business and home insulation? Of course, use bubble wrap as the ideal insulator, it’s lightweight, cheap and easy to install, and fire retardant grades are available.
  • Optics and home insulation? Of course, use a reflective coating on one side of the bubble wrap to reflect radiated heat.
  • Physiotherapy and the reduction of carbon emissions?
  • The toothbrush and ceramic crystals?
  • Extruded plastic “core flute” sheeting and aluminium extrusions?

The reader can ponder the latter three, but the connection in each of these cases has spawned real businesses.

There is an endless list of these seemingly unrelated disciplines that can be connected with an open innovation approach that encourages a wide search horizon.

Indeed, this is why the new paradigm of “Opportunity Capture” is now emerging as the preferred approach to the more narrow discipline of traditional innovation.

What’s the message?

Managers in the open innovation space do not need to be great technologists, as perhaps with the closed model. Instead, they need to be great networkers, able to build bridges between people and companies. This is quite a different skills set to that of the managers operating in the closed model.

So what’s the takeaway here? Stay open-minded, expand your horizons and embrace the art of formal opportunity search, where the reach is unlimited.

Roger La Salle is the creator of the Matrix Thinking technique and is a prominent international speaker on innovation, opportunity and business development. He is the author of three books, Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australia and overseas.

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