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How to encourage innovation amongst company employees

How to encourage innovation amongst company employees

By Joseph Gelman is a partner with Prophet, a strategic brand and marketing consultancy.
East African Breweries (EABL) a subsidiary of Diageo in Kenya is by far the most important player in the local beer market. The challenge facing EABL was not competitive but socio-economic, since most of the population could not afford to buy the product.
EABL's innovation people came up with a groundbreaking solution – cutting costs by eliminating the bottle for one of its brands of beer. At the same time, they convinced the government of the health risks of illegal brewing. As a result, the government reduced the consumption taxes for this specific beer.

And so, Senator Keg was born; “the only beer that does not come in a bottle” (it is only sold in siphon form), with its own tax structure, and distributed through a network of informal establishments that sell beer glasses to consumers. By late 2009, Senator Keg was supplying around 40% of the Kenyan beer market.

Marketing managers continuously search for their own Senator Keg: a groundbreaking product or service that generates tangible benefits for the business and its customers.

How do you get “ordinary” company employees to develop new ideas, products and services? How do you make them innovative?

First, it’s important to understand the equation behind innovation: Inspiration + Creativity = Innovation. This means that it is necessary to find sources of inspiration that can be applied in a creative process to produce innovation.

Our innovation theory is based on the search for inspiration in non-traditional sources and contexts, and applying them to our products and services. You need to look at more stuff and think about it harder: LAMSTAIH.

Once this inspiration has been found, it must be transformed into specific ideas. This involves applying various creative and critical thinking techniques to exploit all the potential that may have remained dormant within the company employees.

Turning the company's workers into sources of innovation requires a constant search for inspiration, which is then transformed into ideas by applying a process of divergence and convergence.

Divergence seeks to gradually “open” participants’ minds during the innovation exercise. During the process, participants are not aware why they are being asked to think about certain things. It is at this point that the power of convergence comes into play. Once the divergence activities have been successfully completed, convergence helps to synthesise their observations into ideas.

These are some of the exercises Prophet uses to foster innovation:

Inspiration Safaris

A consumer goods company wanted to develop premium propositions because its category was becoming commoditised. So we sent the employees on an “inspiration safari” to the high-end shopping street Ortega y Gasset (Madrid, Spain), where we asked them to focus on the colours, textures, smells, and packaging.

When they returned, participants discussed their observations and then applied them to their own category, inspired by their observation of the city's luxury stores.

Human Libraries

In our innovation sessions we bring together a variety of in-and out-of-category experts to encourage our clients to talk to each other and become inspired by those who would not be common sources of research.

In Moscow, we worked with a client that sought to develop a range of products for women. We conducted the “human library” experiment with a female stylist, who shared her vision on what elements comprise femininity, what her clients wanted and the way she interacted with them.

Thief and Doctor

This exercise is designed to obtain inspiration from an object outside the category.
One of our clients wanted to develop products targeted at a younger audience. We selected a series of objects from other categories and asked the client to order them in terms of their perceived success in meeting this audience’s needs. That prioritisation was the basis for identifying elements of packaging, colours, shapes, flavors, use, price, etc. that made up these offers. These ideas were then “stolen”, enhanced, and applied to their own products.

The Worst Idea

During a meeting with a leading U.S. toy manufacturer, we were trying to develop new product lines for a doll. To break the deadlock, we asked: “What would be the worst possible idea?” One of the managers answered: “The prostitute doll.” Working from that bad idea, the group realised that it had not exploited night time. That led to the concepts of pajamas, sleepovers at a friend's house, and so on.

Innovation is about striking the right balance. While there is absolutely a need for process, rigidity is its main enemy. Some people think best when there are short periods of distraction. Given that most corporate settings are not inspiring, it is good to take people out of their regular environment and give them the right space and stimuli to inspire and help them innovate. Creative thinking is not dependent on creative people, but it needs a creative environment.

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