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Business Advice

Blue Sky Thinking and Innovation

blue-sky thinking: noun .  1. creative ideas that are not limited by current thinking or beliefs[1]

At the beginning of the great housing apocalypse I suggested to several home builder clients that they offer an opportunity for people to experience life in one the builder’s homes by allowing potential buyers to spend a night in a model home. I called it “sleep with a model.” When I suggested this — to a person —every one of the home builders said, “We can’t do this.” or “Our insurance will allow it.” and even “They’ll tear up the house!”

I also recommended to a Realtor client that she develop an alliance with home renovations contractors so she could provide buyers with immediate access to trusted vendors. I also advocated to the same client that she arrange value loss insurance, soothing buyers’ greatest fears: losing money. Such innovations would distinguish the Realtor’s brand in the crowded market and set her apart for the customer-focused benefits she could provide.

In both situations, there was extreme resistance and objections about why these things could not be done. Not one person stopped to consider how these things could be done.

Innovation is rare

True innovation comes along very rarely. And in (almost) every instance, real innovation is met with extreme resistance. Everyone thinks of all the reasons why something cannot be done. Given the amount of resistance when it comes to innovation, you would think that innovation is against the natural order.

Companies that prosper are those which give power to customers, — providing consumers with their most desired choices and options. Think things that make it easy on the customer. And therefore help you gain more business.

Technology related firms generally make the greatest leaps these days providing people the innovations they want to smooth daily life.

Taco Bell New App

In recent news, innovation is coming from the food and beverage sector. USA Today reports,

“Taco Bell will unveil an advanced mobile app that lets folks order and pay on their smartphones and then walk or drive in and pick up their food.”

The new app is being spotlighted by taking the entire Taco Bell website dark October 28, 2014. How much resistance do you think was heard around the office when this was proposed? You can imagine the conversations: “What if they pay and we don’t get their order?” “How will we deal with incorrect orders?” And on and on. But clearly somebody overcame those issues and designed the new smartphone app.

Also reported by USA Today, another sacred cow, the wait line at Outback, is being conquered by new tech with the launch of their mobile app allowing diners to see real-time estimated waiting times and to add their names to the wait list.

“It’s more important than rolling out a new steak,” says John Schaufelberger, chief marketing officer, in a phone interview.

Nurturing blue sky thinking

Innovation comes from blue sky thinking. Unhindered, unfettered consideration of ground-breaking options which lead to new procedures, new products and ease of use.

When was the last time you did some of your own blue sky thinking? Did you censor yourself? OR did you just let the ideas flow? Is your culture one of encouraging innovation? Do you listen to employees who have ideas of how to streamline production? In a classic model, U.S. auto producers changed production lines in the 1970s to complete with Japanese automakers, with a great many of their ideas arising from those who actually worked on production lines.

Censoring your creativity and wild ideas will keep you exactly where you are. Want to grow? Want to be talked about? Be different.

Blue sky thinking cultivation:

  1. Talk to your customers. Ask them what is their most difficult issue or problem. Ask them what they most need. Then figure out how to do it.
  2. Keep a notebook. Whether digital, or hand-written, capture arcane ideas or transient thoughts. This is why writers and engineers keep notebooks at their bedside so they awaken from dreams to record their nocturnal imaginings.
  3. Observe. Watch people. Watch your customers. Note how they actually do things, not how you’d like them to do things.
  4. Have a blue sky session. Include everyone. Customers. Owners. Stakeholders. Don’t censor. Record. Process later.
  5. Examine common problems. Apple’s iPad evolved from a desire to provide portable, lightweight, powerful devices with multiple capacities. The tablet computer they created revolutionized the market and created a new category.

How have you created innovation in your firm? Tell us how you’ve encouraged blue sky thinking and innovation.


[1] blue-sky thinking. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/blue-sky thinking (accessed: October 28, 2014).