How Adobe and Silicon Valley Innovate Billion Dollar Ideas

light-bulbs-dollar-sign-698x400In studying the ideation methods at Adobe and Silicon Valley companies I’ve found seven simple steps that any company can use to innovate. Ideas are my passion and, according to Gallup’s Strengthsfinder test, my #1 strength. I use these same methods to train entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs around the world on innovation and acceleration.

#1 Embrace Your Bad Ideas 

This is the philosophy of the Kickbox innovation training program developed at Adobe (full disclosure, I sell and deliver the Kickbox program to companies). Really good ideas are pretty rare but if you want to get to the great ones, you’ll have to start generating loads more bad ideas. So, bad ideas are good, in that they get you closer to your best ones. Start generating and capturing ALL your ideas, good and bad. You should set aside regular time and space for ideation until it becomes a habit.

#2 Capture Ideas in the Moment 

While you may schedule time for brainstorming with a notepad in hand, there will 
also be less predictable times that ideas just come to you. Maybe you already know the situations where you are likely to have insights and inspiration? I have a few regular moments when ideas come to me: in the shower, while driving or exercising, and in the middle of the night. 

Instead of trying to keep one notebook at hand for all these moments, I have different tools to capture ideas in each situation. I use a product called Aquanotes (check Amazon.com) to write down ideas in the shower, and I leave voicemail messages or use Apple’s Siri dictation to capture ideas while exercising and driving. In the middle of the night, or in waiting room, I’ll use the notes app on my smartphone. The basic notes application on my phone syncs to the cloud. 

Whatever tool you use to capture ideas should not be one that slows you down in any way. If your idea-capture-tool is too rich with features, it can get in the way of recording your idea. This is why I favor the built-in, plain-text notes program over a fancy program like Evernote. Your results may be different, but complicated tools slow me down and distract me with their features. 

#3 Devour Stimulating Information  

When you gather and digest a lot of background information, your subconscious mind will soon make the connections to create new ideas. You need to research your current situation thoroughly to feed your subconscious. Examine market forces, industry trends, customer opinions and complaints, your business mission and values, and any other data, that could expand your thinking. Widen your point of view until you can see a challenge from all sides. It can also help to break a situation into parts and examine it in different ways, by questioning everything, or looking at things out of order, or out of place. In this way you can begin to see the opportunities on the other side of a big challenge. 

#4 Try New Brainstorming Methods 

Old school brainstorming sessions aren’t very effective. I’ve led plenty of them and I’m done with the approach. The big problem is that their outcome is diminished by group dynamics, loud voices, and dominant personalities. I should know because I can be one of those loud and dominant types at times. Fortunately, there are better ways to do brainstorming. Try posing a question or challenge in different ways to a group, and then have everyone write down their ideas before sharing. Once people start speaking, have other participants write down new insights, rather than blurting them out. This may feel a little restrained, but it will produce a better range of ideas. Another approach is solo brainstorming, where you simply clear distractions away and sit with a pen and paper, writing down everything that you can think of for 15-45 minutes. With solo brainstorming, it’s critical that you don’t self edit, and just write everything down, good or bad. If you get distracted by off-topic thoughts of things you that need to handle, you can write those on a separate sheet, or on post-it notes, for action later. 

#5 Combine, Refine, and Improve Ideas 

Once you’ve generated some ideas that look good, the next step is to look at how they might be combined or improved. We often have a lot of related ideas that express similar things, but in different ways, or dealing with different aspects of the same thing. Take your best ideas and start to look for where they are connected or related, and then group them. You may even notice that a fringe idea could improve the central idea that you are most excited about, if you combine them in a new way. This is a sorting and editing step that will improve your ideas. Ideas will be easier to communicate and share if you take the time to do this well.

#6 Share and Test the Best Ideas

Even your best idea is only as valuable as what you will do with it. To do big things, with a big idea, you’ll need to work with lots of people. If you try and to keep a great idea to yourself, you will not accomplish very much. So, start sharing your ideas with enough of the right people to get feedback, and to recruit supporters and team leaders. At this stage you need to become great at communicating your idea, so that you can get lots and lots of people supporting and working on it.

#7 Give the Very Best Ones Away 

When they are successful, your very best ideas will cease to be your own. We may create ideas but we also lose control over the great ones. This is what it means “go viral.” Parents recognize this pattern with our children. We may be the source of them, but we quickly lose control over them. Just like a when a child grows up, countless others will take part in developing your greatest ideas and contribute to their growth. If you hold on to an idea too tightly, it will suffer and never reach its potential. You can profit from your big idea, be recognized for it, even be acknowledged as its creator, but your ultimate job is to let it go, so that it can grow.

The methods used in these seven steps are simple to understand, but harder to implement. Notice those steps that you already use, and which ones are new to you. Take on implementing the new ones, one at a time, until you have made all seven steps a regular habit. Small changes, implemented with consistency, can make a billion dollar difference over time.

Bill Gallagher trains and coaches business leaders and teams around the world in programs for innovation, acceleration, and leadership development. You’ll find his full background here: www.linkedin.com/in/billgall. More information on our Kickbox program can be found here and Adobe’s release is here.

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