The Art of ‘Eureka!’ Shopping: 12 Ways to Find Innovative, Business-Boosting Ideas Outside Your Company

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By Alexander Hiam

According to a recent survey study from The Conference Board, U.S. employers rank creativity and innovation as two of the top challenges for today’s CEOs. Companies are hampered by their inability to see and think beyond the parameters of their own world views. They find themselves in a rut caused by the fact that the thinking that got them to where they are can’t seem to get them beyond it.

Whatever the type and size of your business, you can be sure of finding more eureka-worthy innovations outside it than within it. Some have been turned into successes already; others are waiting for some brave soul to develop them. Your job is to go find them.

And don’t limit yourself to your own industry or sector. As big as it may be, it’s still far, far smaller than the entire universe of possible ideas. To be a truly great innovator, you will have to do a little window shopping — and sometimes you’ll have to look in windows you never even considered looking in before.

Mattel Inc. is the perfect example of a company that has looked outside its down doors for innovative ideas that helped improve its business. The company regularly gets ideas from the electronics, plastics and entertainment industries. A new Barbie doll, for example, has to be produced by using plastics technology from the wide world of industry, not from traditional toy making.

Following are a few ideas for turning your thinking around — stepping outside and looking in a few windows to see what others are doing.

Visit the wrong trade shows. The most exciting innovations often come from visits to trade shows that are far removed from your industry. A bookstore owner, for example, might do well to attend a consumer electronics trade show, because books are having to share attention with electronic media. What ideas might you get as a bookstore manager when you look to the consumer electronics industry for inspiration?

  • For each best-selling print book purchased in the store, offer an MP3 file of the audiobook for free.
  • Link large-screen computer terminals to online book previews so that shoppers can look at books even if they aren’t in the store and then special order them for pickup the following day.
  • Offer titles in e-book format as an option to traditional bound books, and rent or lend an electronic book reader with each purchase of an e-book.

These initial ideas illustrate the point that a bookstore ought not to exist in isolation from the world of electronics. Instead, it could be cross-fertilizing to offer innovations in the way it does business and the way its customers interact with books and authors. A few days at a major electronics or entertainment industry trade show would stimulate the imagination of any bookstore manager and produce dozes of these sorts of ideas.

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