Generating Ideas 3: Stealing with style

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

I recently heard Professor Peter Child of Imperial College talking on the value of prototyping (a topic for a later Innovation Group LIVE!).  He mentioned that he was getting his PhD students to trawl through and identify all the creativity tools they could find.  They were on 430 and counting!  This may sound overwhelming but in reality many of them use similar techniques and you only need to know a few that work for you.

Brainstorming has got itself a bad name in some circles as an ineffective waste of time: a route to coming up with lots of ideas that go nowhere.  To work well it needs to be set up properly (See Generating Ideas 2) and seen as part of a wider process.  This post looks at one brainstorming technique particularly useful to charities.

Stealing with Style

In working with charities, I have found the “stealing with style” method usually gets the most enthusiasm and “Aha!” moments.

Think about the issue you want to solve and break it down into the essence of what you want to do.  Then think about others in parallel worlds who do that.  For example if you provide information for people, you might think of travel agents and look at travel brochures.  Use that related but different service to gain insights about your own.

An Example

We tried this out in a recent Innovation Group LIVE! workshop.  Chris’s charity provides free training and he wants ideas on how to charge for it.

The brainstorming groups quickly identified Spotify, the online music store, that was once free and is now charged for. Spotify attracts people with a limited free offer and provides a premium version upgrade at a cost.  This led to insights for Chris such that he could provide a bite-sized training session for free with extra training at cost.

The group also came up with dentistry as a once free service. The observation that dentists offer payment plans to spread the cost led to the insight that Chris could offer an upgraded membership including training but with payment spread over the year.

Step by Step

  1. Prepare your group – see earlier blogs in this series
  2. Clarification Know exactly what it is you want to do, e.g: provide information; training; attract members; transport people; connect people.
  3. Identification Seek out others who have solved the challenge i.e. successfully do what you want to do but in an entirely different sector e.g: Thompsons; Open Universtiy; the RAC; Virgin; Facebook.
  4. Observation  Find out as much as you can about how they addressed the issue.
  5. Insight  Use your observations to gain insights for your own situation.

Have a go and post your insights on the Innovation Group discussion thread below.

Future posts in this series will look at other brainstorming methods.

But remember, getting the ideas is just a step in the process. To find out about choosing which to focus on come to Innovation Group LIVE! Selecting the Best Ideas.

Learn more: there is a mass of information on brainstorming online.  For an engaging (but product-focused) book with lots of practical advice look at Sticky Wisdom by ?WhatIf!

Katherine William-Powlett’s blog

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