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Perspective could be limiting innovation

In my business I talk to a lot of people. For me, it’s a bit like qualitative research. I am not in the business of selling–I am in the business of solving problems. So I ask a lot of questions and I receive a lot of data. In a recent conversation it dawned on me what the biggest hurdle for great innovation in Canada has been – perspective.

Many of my clients are the Canadian arm of a multi-national corporation with a parent company either in the U.S. or Europe. They are often faced with the challenge of selecting their new products from a stable of products that already exist in the U.S. Which one will be the best opportunity for Canada?What has already worked in Canada? What is already tried and true in Canada?

These are questions that are asked at some point in the evaluation process. This process, however, doesn’t foster the environment for real innovation. This is creating a “me too” product that is already available and already has a proven track record. Very safe.

The other way of looking at this would be to look at what has worked well in the U.S. but doesn’t exist here. What is available somewhere else in the world, but no one has ever thought bring it to Canada? This might not be considered true innovation, but let’s face it, unlike the Apple’s, and Google’s of this world, most companies in Canada don’t have  research teams dedicated to finding the next big thing. Let’s not be shy about borrowing and learning from other parts of the world. Wasabi peas, rice-based snacks, chickpea-based snacks–these are all finding a place in the Canadian market, but they certainly weren’t invented here.

The biggest challenge of market research is not to just looking back at what has worked in the past, but looking forward to what will work in the future. I am not suggesting this is easy, but it’s also not as difficult as it might seem.  Here are four best practices to position your company to start the innovation process with a forward-looking approach:

  1. 1. Start with an open mind. Set aside any biases or filters that will cloud your judgement for truly new ideas. Take advantage of all your business partners to help with this. Work with anyone who knows your business but doesn’t work in it day in and day out. Get outside of your comfort zone.

  2. 2. Know the trends that are relevant to your business. This is likely THE most important step. Trends provide you with a road map of where trends are going and most importantly why they are going that way. For example, the aging Baby Boomer cohort will naturally lead to a focus on health and wellness. The sustained growth of immigration for decades and the decline of natural population growth in Canada has resulted in a huge ethnic population with different eating habits and preferences.

  3. 3. Don’t limit yourself to one idea. When you are brainstorming ideas, get creative and come up with as many as you possibly can. This doesn’t mean you are going to try to launch them all. In fact, 90% of them will fail at the idea stage. Remember that you can learn something from every failure. This is a place where failure costs virtually nothing.  If you’re lucky, you will come up with several well-received ideas that you can use to build an innovation pipeline, making the work you’ve done even more efficient.

  4. 4. Have a clear plan. As many of you know, when you start brainstorming, you can head off into some pretty crazy tangents. That is great at the idea generating stage, but as you move further down the pipeline, you need to have a clearly paid out plan and objective that will help focus your efforts and get your innovation on the right track.

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