In an unprecedented era of innovation and value creation leading brands are taking ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking out of the cliché pile and making it a way of life. Lateral Thinking™ is one approach I use that enables breakthrough, creating a lens that helps marketers see hidden opportunity.
Lateral Thinking™ is problem solving through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. It is different from our normal perceptions regarding creativity and innovation, and it is an alternative to pure vertical logic/scientism and pure horizontal imagination/spirituality. Lateral Thinking™ involves disrupting an apparent sequence of thought to arrive at a new perspective on a subject from another angle. It can lead to simple but powerful ideas that are obvious only after they have been discovered. It is a focus on the escape from imprisoning ideas.
Breakthrough Of Olympic Proportions
Peter Ueberroth applied Lateral Thinking™ to the process of creating the world’s first profitable Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984. He turned a $250 million profit by changing the focus of planning how to cover the event from sports spectating only to a full blown TV event about the history and behind the scenes drama and meaning of the event. He demonstrated a willingness to stop at every point possible in the planning process to ask “what new idea can we use here?” For example, the torch lighting ceremony normally a 10 – 15 minute stadium event was stretched into a multi-media event raising millions by having the torch flown from Greece then hand carried in a coast-to-coast relay supported by corporate sponsorships.
When you think about applying creative thinking skills to your organization and brand there are four different areas that can yield great results.
1. Improving an existing purpose or process. Example: Toyota Motor Company gets hundreds of suggestions for work process improvement a year from each employee because promotions in part depend upon the number of suggestions submitted.
2. Problem solving in a task setting. Example: In the mid-1980’s Nike’s brand growth faltered because it had not figured out how to properly address in product design and brand communications the women’s market. In order to correct the problem it first had to admit it had a problem in understanding what women really want. I used depth research techniques to interview defecting customers and walk around the issues about how the brand wasn’t creating value, many new lateral ideas surfaced on how to get back on track. What Nike learned from that research opened up a new green field growth opportunity that spurred the business to soaring new heights.
3. Defining new opportunities. Example: Traditionally most companies look for new product or service opportunities. Many of them define opportunities as a result of cues they get from competitors. Very few generate their own opportunities without regard to what competitors are doing. Those that do often find themselves with a category of one brand, where there are no substitutes. Here opportunities are shaped to produce “Integrated Value” into a product, service or brand experience. Swatch integrated the value of self-expression and timekeeping into a watch. Apple’s iPhone integrated the value of a phone, music player, Internet connection device, personal GPS system and a million other Apps into a miniaturized personal computer that is the digital equivalent of a Swiss Army knife with over a million blades. For a decade before the iPhone was invented there was talk in the IT industry of the concept of “convergence” related to computing in the home. Apple skipped a couple steps and created convergence in a phone. Creative thinking was the heartbeat of these innovations.
4. Creating a bigger future. Change in business most often comes from evaluating your current course or results and then using your creative skills to generate new concepts to improve your results (enriching your field of ideas for consideration). There is often a need to invest in acquiring new knowledge or new experiences as a prerequisite for generating new concepts. Concept Generation or Ideation workshops are one way to accomplish this. A typical concept generation workshop starts with a series of Lateral Thinking™ or Mind Burst exercises to generate a wide range of ideas for how a problem might be solved or how a challenge might be addressed. In a half day it is not uncommon for hundreds of new ideas to be proposed in seed concept form (no vetting or idea killing of seed concepts because it also kills the playful creative spirit and threatens the volume of ideas that can be created.)
The next stage then is to rapidly cluster and sort all of the seed concepts. Out of the hundreds of ideas generated what are the top ten? The top five? To arrive at the best and brightest ideas there should be a set of screening criteria created that goes well beyond financial only consideration to examine how “integrated value” might be generated from a brand experience perspective (both inside and outside the company). The most promising ideas are then discussed and built up conceptually into project initiatives complete with cost, timing, point person, and other important project dimensions. The idea here is to thoroughly examine lots of ideas and to focus on the ones with the most potential to lift sales, strengthen the brand image and strengthen the internal culture of the company.
New Heights Of Innovation
Why were the Wright brothers the first to fly? They didn’t possess new technology. They changed the way they viewed the challenge of flight from what all the other scientific challengers in the field were thinking. The concept their design perspective took was one of how to solve the problem of how to control an unstable aircraft in flight, whereas everyone else was merely trying to produce a aircraft in the sense of producing lift. Up until that time the concepts of aileron’s, rudders, vertical and horizontal stabilizers were not envisioned. All other airplane inventors were still designing fixed wing aircraft. Through the paradigm shift of visualizing an unstable aircraft the Wright brothers began thinking about the technical requirements to give an aircraft controls. Indeed, brand innovation for the next level requires the understanding that the flipside of every problem is opportunity.
I used Lateral Thinking™ in combination with other techniques for brand innovation in helping Nike, Starbucks and NBC Entertainment achieve next level breakthrough. Today it’s applied to my consulting work with The Blake Project. Contact us for more about working with intangibles to generate ideas with a higher level of integrated value.
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