Where Do Breakthrough Ideas Really Come From? | The Garage Group

Where Do Breakthrough Ideas Really Come From?

Every insight, ideation and innovation firm claims to have the silver bullet answer to “truly breakthrough ideas.” Frankly, we’ve claimed it, too.

And, we’ve been reflecting, over the past handful of years, on what have been the keys to the truly breakthrough ideas that have been generated in our work with clients, for our own businesses, across businesses and folks we network with and across the hundreds of case studies we’ve read about.

Fortunately, there seem to be a few key elements or ingredients that lead to big ideas. We’ve identified the following five things that need to be true to consistently generate and develop breakthrough ideas:

1. Focus. Having a clear understanding of an unmet consumer or customer need, and focusing on it relentlessly is the first ingredient. It’s the foundational piece that ensures that ideas are relevant in the market. Focus comes at a cost — great insight + hard choices.

2. Externality. We might have made up that word, but we’re referring to having an eye toward the world outside of your own organization (the external reality). Customer insights is only one piece of having a robust externality. An understanding of both direct and indirect competition, a broad survey of new products, technology and (especially) business models is needed in order to break from the current.

3. Multiplication. Most of us know that the more ideas we put into the “funnel,” the more likely we are to get a winning idea to market. The same principle is true when it comes to the number of insights, analogs and trends we explore during idea generation. We’ve found that, by exposing a team to scores of inspiration ensures that we have ample inspiration for new ideas. Never has it been easier to access trends, analogs and insights; and we’ve found that the teams that explore the most broadly are the ones that emerge with the biggest ideas.

4. Connection. Once teams have taken in so many “dots” of inspiration, connecting them in unexpected ways is the step that often leads to the most breakthrough ideas. We’ve written before about this concept of Associative Thinking and Analogs, connecting an insight to an analog or trend can unlock great ideas. We use templates and exercises to help teams force otherwise unrelated connections to generate and develop ideas.

5. Pressure. Interestingly, we’ve found that teams that allow themselves to work under serious time pressure and/or with a competition on the line tend to develop more breakthrough ideas. They identify issues quickly and push through them — pivoting and optimizing ideas as they do so. For example, we charge teams with the challenge of “being a startup” for a day in our ideation workshops. Teams work with a set of tools and templates to fully develop 2-3 initiative pitches and participate in a lively pitch competition (think corporate “shark tank”). While we sometimes see and hear disbelief at the beginning of the day, teams are astounded at the progress they make despite (or, we’d say, because of) the time pressure.

Now, we know there are probably lots of other things that lead to breakthrough ideas, but we’ve found it’s critical to drive focus and externality; provide multiple bits of inspiration, equip the team to connect “dots” in new ways, and introduce very tight time pressures in each ideation engagement project.

Are there other elements you believe need to be in place in order to generate breakthrough ideas?

The Garage Group works with corporate teams to help them innovate and grow like startups, including startup inspired, entrepreneurial approaches to idea generation and development.

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