The five-minute management idea: tips from innovators

08 December 2017 -

MBOYA weekly shot of new thinking for business leaders: borrow ideas and buck trends like previous success stories

Guest blogger Paul Sloane

Innovation is now seen as an essential skill for every company and every executive. Leaders all stress the importance of agility, entrepreneurship and innovation in their organisations, yet most of them are frustrated by slow progress.

What can we do to boost our lateral thinking and creativity? How can we become the innovative pioneers we aspire to be?  One way is to mimic the approaches of great innovators from the past. What did they do? And which of their insights can we apply to our work?

1. Swim against the tide

When she set up The Body Shop, Anita Roddick deliberately did the reverse of what the industry leaders at the time were doing. She saw that cosmetic stores were stuffy places that sold toiletries, perfumes and medicinal creams in expensive packaging and pretty bottles.

What better way to innovate than doing the total opposite of the norm? She packaged the goods in her shops in low-cost plastic bottles with plain labelling and offered refills in store.

It saved money, and made a statement that the contents of the package – rather than the packaging – were what mattered.

2. Innovate by minimising

Traditionally, banks would only make large loans that required some form of collateral, leaving them exclusive to those who already held wealth.

Muhammad Yunus founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and pioneered microfinance by making very small loans to groups of poor women and asking for no security.

By shrinking his business model he created a new, innovative market. The resulting economic growth and development led to him receiving the Nobel Prize.

3. Be promiscuous in your collaborations

David Bowie kept looking for fresh ideas by collaborating with a wide range of disparate people. These collaborations led to global innovations in style and musical direction.

He didn’t simply recycle his early success, but searched for fresh ideas. Although this shocked and annoyed some original fans, it earned him new ones in the process.

4. Mix with people outside your comfort zone

Hans Christian Andersen travelled to the lunatic asylum where his grandfather had been institutionalised to listen to the stories of warders and inmates. Hearing the stories of people outside of his usual circles spurred him on to create ingenious and inspirational fairy tales such as The Tinder Box and The Wild Swans. Search out unfamiliar people, environments, and situations if you want unorthodox and radical ideas.

5. Borrow with pride

Playwright William Shakespeare borrowed most of the plots for his plays from previous works.  If borrowing and developing storylines from others was good enough for Shakespeare, then it is good enough for the rest of us.

We can benefit from his technique of taking a good idea and developing it with our own individual notions and style.

Think Like an Innovator by Paul Sloane is published by Pearson. It is nominated for Management Book of the Year 2017/2018 in the Commuter’s Read category. For more information see

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