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Small Business Digest


Thinking Outside the Door Builds Sales Even In Down Times

In today’s challenging business climate, an organization’s need to develop new and innovative products and services is at an all time high.

In fact, according to A.G. Lafley, CEO of Proctor and Gamble, if an organization hopes to have a chance at all, they must focus the entire organization around this key concept.

However the age old question remains - how are we going to be innovative? In far too many cases, leaders of organizations throw out one of the most over used, and under explained terms “we have to think outside the box.” While the premise is correct, in most cases, the follow through is less than stellar. Enter a new concept - open door innovation.

When it comes to “out of the box” one of the easiest, cost effective ways to be innovative is to get out of the office - the “box”.

IDEO founder Dave Kelley once noted that most bosses believe that they can tell who their best employees are by keeping track of how much time they spend at their desk. The reality however is quite the contrary. Employees who get outside of their workspace, and see what other companies, industries, cultures and groups are doing - yes out there in the outside world - will be the most innovative.

Open Door Innovation is based on the premise that re-inventing the wheel takes time. And, an organization doesn’t have the time to spare.

Go Walkabout

The great news about adopting an Open Door Innovation approach is that it picks up the energy level, and enthusiasm within an organization. Humans are social creatures, and therefore, by our very nature, brains are wired to meet people, and learn what they do. As a child one of the best parts of school was having field trips. As an adult people share recipes with others. They try new restaurants. They travel. The result of all of this - learning, fast learning.

Why would that stop in a business context? When it comes to Open Door Innovation, the list of “adopters” to a variety of the techniques is long, P&G, Samsung, Harley-Davidson, McCain Foods, and InBev. Their HR teams, among many others, use one or more of the following tools to bring fast-paced, fresh innovation into their organization:

Open Houses - in Southern Ontario, a number of manufacturing facilities in non-competing industries regularly meet to tour each other’s plants, to learn new techniques, layouts, and processes. This Benchmarking Consortium has led to a number of process improvements, and a wide range of new techniques.

Networking - With the rise of social networking, and sites including Facebook and LinkedIn, the ability to spread knowledge has increased dramatically. Organizations including McCain Foods and Harley-Davidson regularly meet with other executives in non-formal networking groups, in addition to formal Associations to further increase the rate of knowledge sharing.

Friendly Consulting - Constructive feedback tends to resonate when it comes from a friend. Organizations on the cutting edge including The Globe and Mail, VIA Rail, and others have partnered through McGill University to rigorously analyze each other and provide honest, candid feedback at the fraction of the cost of a formal consultant.

Job Shifting - Whether it is the movement of top executives to the front line within their organization to learn (and remember) how their company actually touches their customer - think Southwest Airlines or a number of Major US Banks, or to take this concept further, Samsung regularly sends its top designers and engineers from Korea to Italy, or the US to work in completely different industries including working with artists, and galleries in order to broaden their scope and approach to their respective roles.

Field Trips - One of the easiest ways to start practicing Open Door Innovation is to take groups of employees on field trips. In many cases, simply picking up the phone and contacting another company of interest and asking if the company can set up a time to visit their offices or plant is all it takes. This is precisely what Mercedes-Benz USA does within its management training curriculum. If calling on another organization is too daunting a task, websites such as list every available business related tour across the United States, broken down by State.

In most cases each of these tools is relatively low cost, and simple for and HR team to implement across the organization, and gives employees first hand exposure to new “things”. Given the rate of change today, what company can afford not to practice Open Door Innovation?

Show Employees to the Door

As a leader, the job in more ways than one is to be the Chief Door Opener. By encouraging employees to get out of the office, leaders can help motivate, recognize and reward, and ultimately retain them. In addition, by putting a social network, or access to other organizations, to work, the goal should be to set up as many visits to the company's own facility as possible.

In any event, the key to Open Door Innovation is to develop fast learning in order to ensure the long-term success of the organization.

By practicing any, or all, of the tools of Open Door Innovation, an organization can learn a wide variety of tips, techniques, processes, and approaches on how to improve its operations and R&D. However, there are a number of other secondary benefits as well.

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