As an innovation facilitator, I love helping teams uncover new directions that their brands can go in. A great process to do this through is Opportunity Exploration. But, (full disclosure) these projects can be a little scary for people who prefer concrete answers and final reports. Opportunity Exploration typically results in more unconventional, but always paradigm-shifting output, such as rich insight platforms populated with new ideas to bring them to life—or using the initial discovery output as inspiration to dive right into an ideation session.
The magic for me is designing a process that gives clients enough stimulus to explore a variety of new areas their brand can be successful in. At Ideas To Go, great stimulus often comes out of robust homework assignments completed by our Creative Consumers® associates. Just to be clear, our version of a “homework assignment” isn’t merely a fact-finding exercise. These pre-project assignments are, at their core, creativity excursions for the consumers. So what do I mean by that?
Sometimes the goal of an innovation initiative is to understand a company’s product (or product category) by exploring what’s already available, and then generating wishes around consumers’ unmet needs. But with Opportunity Exploration, it’s usually much broader and free-flowing—so we give our Creative Consumers® associates the time and direction to really push past their own Availability Bias, and make connections that haven’t been made before.
To illustrate this, one of my favorite homework assignments was for a client looking to generate lots of possibilities for how they could tell a compelling story about one of their ingredients. We had the consumers work through a variety of creative thinking excursions—but one resulted in some of the most fun and engaging answers. The consumers were asked to provide a “creative expression” about the ingredient’s story, and the role it played in their lives. We recommended that they spend a full hour to develop this answer—using any format they liked, from video or visual art, to song or dance.
Once they completed the first task, we asked them to generate insights around the ingredient, based on the story they previously told. The incredibly high level of creativity and insight that came from just that one homework question set the client team up with many new story opportunities to explore.
Thought-leader panels are another great way to uncover opportunity spaces. One of the key elements in Ideas To Go’s Behavioral Innovation™ approach is to look for new opportunities in fresh ways—without tripping up on your own biased thinking. That’s why I love custom-designing expert panels as stimulus for my clients. These panels provide outside perspectives and inspiration—that we can then help client teams connect back to their own initiatives.
I won’t give away which category we were working in, but one of our more provocative expert panels centered around “refreshment.” The client team was looking for ways to bring one of their key Reasons To Believe to life: the idea of refreshment. To help them identify rich opportunity areas, we brought in experts with different insights and experiences around this concept. The thought leaders ranged from the fields of massage and spirituality, to music and food science—all with backgrounds in sensory “refreshment,” but not in the client’s actual category. Each one had his/her own station in the room for the client team and Creative Consumers® associates to go on refreshment excursions—capturing observations, thoughts, ideas, and even hypotheses at each one. This immersive experience gave our clients and consumers a lot of new platform areas to explore further.
There’s so much amazing stimulus and creativity that can be cultivated into new opportunity areas—and I recommend it start with a robust homework assignment or inspiring thought leader panel. These two tools provide innovators with effective ways to break through their own Status Quo bias—also known as change is bad, same is good—and get to opportunities the competition wouldn’t think of. Again, this type of work may feel risky, but proactively exploring new opportunities before going into an ideation session sets your team up with more strategic direction and information moving forward. If you take the leap of faith to make potentially risky decisions early enough in development, you can learn more at the right time—rather than learning too late, and missing the opportunity of a lifetime.
Beth Storz is President and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go. She co-authored the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward." Beth has been a guest on many innovation podcasts and her work has been featured in media outlets such as HuffPost and Fortune. Beth holds a BS in Business Management from Cornell University and a MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and has worked in brand management at some of the premier consumer packaged goods companies—including Unilever, Kraft and Nabisco. Since joining Ideas To Go, Beth has established herself as a leader in the Innovation landscape and designed and facilitated projects for hundreds of companies—from CPG to financial services to pharmaceuticals.