December 17, 2015 – by Marieke van der Heijden &samhoud food
Where do you find your fuel for innovation?
In the first two articles in this series, I discussed the need for resilient leaders with a clear vision (#1) and how experimental space (#2) supports innovation efforts and increase the chances for long-term success. This article focusses on the third fundamental: inspiration as a standard asset for creating an innovative culture within an organisation, illustrated with some concrete examples from practical experience as an entrepreneur in the food business, and hands-on exercises to start with today.
Innovation needs stimulation. This stimulation can come from external and internal sources. Compare it to what fuel is for a car: you can drive a beautiful Ferrari, but it will never go very far if it doesn’t get any fuel. With inspiration it is the same: if you are not looking outside your company or industry, it will be hard to come up with new ideas. Yes, you might find some ideas for “renovation”, small changes to improve your product or service, but no ground-breaking ideas for disruptive innovation. Just look outside your own ‘box’ might sound simplistic (and perhaps it is), but it is crucial to become more innovative. Especially in the food business, where continuous innovation and speed to market is essential to stay competitive. Basically, it means that inspiration becomes as a vast topic on the business agenda. So, what does it take to get inspiration on the agenda and where do you find the fuel for innovation?
Inspiration on the business agenda
Often people seem to be so busy with running their day-to-day business that they can no longer see what is happening in the world around them. They are so focused on their own product or service, that taking some distance to see what is going on in other industries can become difficult. Or they don’t find the time to do so. Their agenda is so stuffed with internal meetings that reflecting on trends to develop their business would be a utopia. Sounds familiar?
The point I am trying to make here is that we have to schedule time to “fuel” ourselves for new ideas. Otherwise, we will simply be overruled by day-to-day tasks and short-term objectives. By allowing yourself time to discover new things on a regular basis, you will be surprised about the impact and the number of new ideas that will bring. Stress can blur things and make you sturdy to open up your mind. That’s why companies like Google and Amazon massively adopt mindfulness practice for their employees these days. In short, for more inspiration you have to schedule time in your agenda and should not forget to clear your mind once in a while.
How does this work in practice? A great first step to ‘force’ yourself to be inspired is scheduling vast time in your agenda. I call it “&Fuel Fridays”. This means that every Friday (or any other day you prefer), you block at least two hours in your calendar where you allow yourself to take time to be inspired. There is only one rule: it must be something new. Hence, everything can be done in that time: you can visit an art show, a food fair, an interesting symposium about a topic you are not familiar with, a new concept store in town, a stakeholder event, a new restaurant or learning a new skill. Buy a little note book and pencil down the new ideas that crossed your mind during your “&Fuel Friday”-time. By doing this on a regular basis you will learn new things, open-up your mind for innovative ideas and satisfy your curiosity. This can be done very low-budget and trust me, you will gain more new insights then you can imagine. And it’s a lot of fun too! (WARNING: &Fuel Fridays can be very addictive!)
The company Diesel (the fashion label red.), founded in 1978, reserves a decent yearly budget for inspiration for innovation. They send their employees to the ends of the world and go where others won’t. To find inspiration for the new season they explore new territories and observe consumers and trends in Siberia or Ivory Coast, instead of London or New York. Today the DIESEL “motor” is running at full speed with 5000 points of sales and 400 stores in 80 countries. It’s secret? Freedom. That means to go beyond trends and look for inspiration all over the world.
Diversity at your doorstep
Inspiration does not always have to come from far: what can be gained from close by; for example in your own team or company? Here, a good start is to seek out people who are different from yourself. While research shows that “visible” diversity issues are increasingly being discussed, there is still a natural human tendency to stick to people who are more like yourself, or who share the same interests. By using the visible and invisible diversity that can be found at your doorstep, you might already be one step ahead of the game.
Again, an easy start would be to schedule “inspiration-coffees” with colleagues that are working on completely different areas then yourself. Discuss and share how their work might affect your business. Can you create together?
Heineken has a fun example that shows that you don’t have to go far, to meet people that are different from you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsF1tDHWQ7s
At &samhoud people are hired from very diverse backgrounds and increasingly more nationalities. It is in our DNA to look across industries (as we are active in different business lines this comes quite natural to us). Amongst my colleagues there are passionate garden architects, artists, singers, professional football players and gamers. What happens if they put their perspective at our food business? Every Monday morning we share our perspectives in what we call the “fish bowl”; a gathering that every employee can attend from the different business lines. It’s a very open concept where new things are presented and questions asked. In this way we share new insights and are able to quickly combine knowledge from the different business lines.
For our latest Retail product introduction, we looked at different market trends. We saw that fashion has an appealing way of marketing by focusing more on the experience than on the product. We asked ourselves: what would happen if we mix food with fashion? How would we present our products if it would be in fashion instead of a traditional product presentation? This resulted in a “fashionable food show” where we turned the restaurant into a fashion show. A long diner table became the catwalk, the presenters were fashion models and the products became fashion items and surprised our guests with “foodie bags”. Linking food to fashion opened-up our minds for new ideas that we had never thought of before. To get an impression, follow this link. https://vimeo.com/130774670
The fashion-theme also impacted the way we looked at our package design. How would a fashion-brand package their new product? Traditionally in Retail the focus is on the product, not the experience. We decided to focus on the experience and give our products a face by putting people on the packaging. Interestingly, we are the first on the shelves. Will soon others follow our example?
Personal reflection questions
Here are some questions that you might ask yourself:
- Do you take time for inspiration on a regular basis?
- Where do you gain your inspiration from?
- When was the last time you visited an event outside your own industry for work?
- Have you reserved an inspiration budget?
5 tips for more inspiration:
- Schedule a vast moment in your agenda for inspiration (at least once a month)
- Buy a small note book for new ideas
- Subscribe for an interesting trend report (e.g. via trendwatching.com)
- Schedule regular inspiration-coffees with colleagues
- Arrange an inspiration budget
Exercise “mix & match”
Read your inspiration notes. Try to mix your new insights or ideas and match them with current business ideas (think: food and fashion). Can you create something new? It might feel a bit awkward in the beginning, but see if it will bring new perspective.
This article series presents five fundamentals to be aware of in any innovation ‘adventure’, big or small. Insights stem from extended research combined with practical experience. Each fundamental is presented with concrete examples and provides tangible tools to get you started. In this publication the third fundamental was presented to you.
Read the former articles from this series:
Fundamental #3 – Inspiration comes from everywhere
Fundamental #4 – Do move fast and flexible
Fundalmental #5 – Value harmony and empathy
My advice is to use the personal questions and tools as inspiration to build a strong fundament for an innovative culture. I am looking forward to hear about your experiences! Please keep me informed at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an article in the &samhoud Inspiration series: “5 fundamentals for innovation in food”