James Atkins, director of Vantage Strategy & Marketing, teaches us that you should take shelter from the brain storm if you really want to discover something innovative. Instead, take a good hard look where your business is at and consider where you want it to be.

One way not to go about unlocking innovation is to hold a brainstorm! Or at least to turn up with butchers paper, pens and little else!

You need stimuli and a process to gain insight and inspiration. You need always to be on the look out – innovation happens all around you every day!

Here’s three ways that I found have helped people think about developing innovative products and services:

1) Look at the Edges and Intersections of your Users, Products and Competition.

Where are there non standard uses for your products by customer groups you weren’t targeting? How have customers used your products to solve a problem you hadn’t thought of? Which of your customers are they using your competitors products – and for what purpose?

Lead users, those who are early adopters, can be indicators of a broader market opportunity.

2XU, for instance, were able to identify that a small group of non professional sports people were wearing high performance sportswear (that they didn’t need for performance purposes!). They created a new category by making those products widely available at (relatively) lower cost. Add a fashion angle and you not only have weekday joggers wearing 2XU but it’s become acceptable weekend attire.

2) Take a Future Forward view.

Take a trend and extend it as far as you can. What trends can you tap into and be ahead of the curve …Social, Environmental, Technological, Political, Regulator.

Back in 2009 Jetstar decided to jump ahead of their competitors by ramping up social media marketing whilst everyone else was dabbling at best. They allocated over 40% of marketing dollars to this segment and got stellar returns in terms of ROI. Seems sensible now but two years ago they were ahead of the curve.

3) Turn your business Upside Down and Inside Out.

Change how you look at your Organisation, Staff, Supply Chain, Partners.

My favourite example here is Build-a- Bear. They completely inverted the accepted industry model. Teddy bears are a low cost, low margin, high volume, seasonal, fad based business. They created a business model that was low cost, high margin, moderate volume, all year round and experiential. From one store in the late 90’s they now have over 400.

Interestingly their revenue has flat lined lately – may well be time to turn things upside down and inside out again!