7 Ways to Spark Your Innovative Smarts

Ever wonder how the great innovators do it? How do they develop a product or service that wakes up the marketplace and creates a buying frenzy?


Great innovators bring together their observations, experiences, the things they know, and how they feel about them. Then they consider how all these elements relate to one another.

Making connections among these different elements is the key to brilliant concepts and groundbreaking innovation. I call it Red Thread Thinking.

Like the great innovators, you can learn to ignite thinking that channels lots of new ideas. You can apply your own innate knowledge to cultivate brilliant insights that lead to market-moving products or services.

Here are a few examples of how to set a spark to your own innovative smarts.

1. Tinker, tailor, soldier, and buy.

You are not starting with a blank slate. The past provides a deep and provocative well of information, ideas, and insights.

Take a fresh look at what’s gone before, and rework or tweak it to meet a need and gain remarkable advantage.

MIT professor Eric von Hippel discovered that millions of people tinker with existing products to solve a problem or improve functionality. Necessity is the mother of invention, and moneymaking ventures.

An American modified a Harley-Davidson exhaust pipe to create a high-performance
exhaust-cooling device. A frustrated parent reprogrammed a standard GPS so that it could immediately locate objects lost in the house. No more lost earrings, or misplaced licenses or car keys.

People pay for products that make their lives easier.

2. Stop brainstorming.

Innovation begins with the individual: you. Brainstorming doesn’t open up creativity; it slams the door on it.

Studies show that people working alone conceive more fresh ideas than brainstorming groups. This is because your brain can’t make the free-flowing innovative connections it’s capable of in the rigid format of brainstorming sessions. There is too much outside influence and pressure to contribute.

3. Mine the culture.

Know what makes your market tick, and you’ll know what makes them spend. Take advantage of people’s existing habits and behaviors.

The best innovative insights often come from watching. A.G. Lafley, former head of Procter & Gamble, experienced a watershed moment for his company’s fortunes (and consumer research) in Venezuela.

For an hour, he sat in an average homeowner’s cramped kitchen and listened as the young mother described her 31 bottles of cream, lotion, shampoo, and perfume.

Lafley suddenly understood that the products weren’t about what he or P&G’s marketing department said they were; those lotions and potions were about what Maria Yolanda Rios said they were, what she made them into in her life.

Those lotions were her entertainment — and that was very meaningful to her.

As a result of his listening and insight, P&G today still sends observers into the field, to see how potential customers incorporate health and beauty rituals into their lives.

How are they using products and what are they looking for? Observation is crucial to finding market solutions and inspiring successful innovations.

4. Set — don’t follow — trends.

Too often, we are tempted to jump on the bandwagon of an existing trend. Trends are ephemeral; they don’t last. You have a bigger goal, a product that remains part of the culture, in demand and in use because it serves not just needs but also values.

You want to be the brand that people stay with because it forms meaning in their lives, not just because Sarah Jessica Parker says green tea is healthy.

5. Ply your mind.

Research shows you can boost your brain’s innovative output by the challenges you set for it.

Capture new concepts (learn a language), try a demanding task, broaden your knowledge, and interact with stimulating people. Our brains are changing every second in response to the environment and our experiences.

New neurons jump to action in different parts of the brain right into our old age. Prompt your brain to reinvent itself, and it will repay you in market-changing innovative thoughts.

6. Passion is power.

Successful entrepreneurs have the ability to take the personal and professional risks that will benefit and build their businesses. When the project model is off the mark, they shift and pivot, seeking the needed improvements to get it right.

With passion, you can persevere through the challenges, and win.

7. Own your smarts.

When you believe in yourself, you actually generate more good ideas and innovative concepts. Owning your intelligence and insight makes you more open to new possibilities.

Think of yourself as smarter and you begin to fulfill your own expectation. You’ve got the gift of genius. Start making it work for you, and reap the rewards.

All these elements and more come together in Red Thread Thinking. This proven method helps you innovate and successfully problem solve, whether you’re trying to re-energize a major firm that’s become a lumbering giant, bring a start-up to life, or help organize a community fund-raiser.

You can train your brain to be more on target, more supple and inventive, when you need it to be.

How great will that feel? You can start now.

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