Recently I returned from over two weeks on the road. I was in and out of five airports. As you go through security, the routine is always the same…
- Take off your shoes
- Take out your liquids
- Take out your computer
Why are we put through these security gymnastics?
On December 22, 2001, Richard Reid was caught with plastic explosives in the soles of his shoes. That’s why we now have to walk barefoot through airports.
On August 9, 2006, two dozen people were arrested in the UK because they were plotting to bring liquid explosives on planes leaving Heathrow airport. Now we have to travel with miniature shampoos, shave creams and toothpastes.
Computers are scanned because, well, that’s the obvious place to look. I guess.
What do these have in common? For the most part, the security scans we now endure were due to cleverness on the part of terrorists. Rarely are we subjected to scans that are due to the cleverness of government agencies.
Are there ways to easily smuggle weapons on planes in spite of our increased security? Of course. Nearly every time I pass through a metal detector, I have metal collar stays in the dress shirt I am wearing. Although the detector never beeps, these could easily have been turned into razor sharp weapons. Does this mean that next week I will have to travel topless through the airport? Good thing I have been working out.
Give me 15 minutes and I could rattle off dozens of other, more sinister ways to smuggle weapons on board.
This is a reactionary approach to business.
The current financial situation also demonstrates a reactionary approach to business. Enron has a meltdown. What should we do? Implement ridiculously stringent rules like the Sarbanes-Oxley act. Our financial institutions start to falter. OK, let’s spend $700 billion of the taxpayers’ money to sort out the mess.
I’m not saying that these rules and legislation are good or bad (or ugly). That’s a conversation for another time. But I do find it ironic that the “big ideas” always seem to come in response to some tragedy. They are rarely proactive.
What does this have to do with innovation? Everything.
Most organizations use creativity to help them determine what to do next. They brainstorm ideas, select the best solutions, and then implement the most promising ones. Creativity is used to determine what your company or organization will do next.
But in these rapidly changing times, creativity can be equally (if not more) valuable for determining what the marketplace and your competitors will do next. Or, if you are the government, it may help determine what your banks and terrorists will do next.
When is the last time you had a brainstorming session where you asked the following questions?
- What are we most afraid our competition will do to us?
- Who is not a competitor now, but might be in the future?
- What shift might happen in the buying habits of our customers that may make our product/service less appealing?
- How can the sagging economy help our business?
- What emerging products or services may make our business irrelevant?
The list of outside-in questions can be endless – and valuable.
In your next brainstorming session, try the following:
- Brainstorm your own list of questions, building on mine above.
- Determine which ones you want to tackle first.
- Brainstorm, using a variety of creativity techniques, to identify “possible” outcomes.
- For those which are deemed plausible, brainstorm a list of “triggers” for each. These are market conditions that tell you that the given scenario is moving from “possible” to “plausible.”
- Set up a corporate “radar” system to help monitor external conditions. Have everything in place such that you can implement critical ideas when market conditions dictate.
This approach blends creativity with scenario-based planning. It helps you move from reactive solutions to proactive solutions. And in today’s volatile world, this might just be the key to your long-term survival.
Stephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.