One of the challenges of innovation is the belief that a good, creative strategy or customer solution has to be completely new. The pressure to innovate and draw out previously unheard of ideas can actually stifle innovation. Innovation stage fright prevents a lot of people from ever trying to go beyond the norm. “Why waste the time? I’m not creative. I’m a numbers person. I’m a good implementer…” But with sales innovation, there is an abundant source of opportunity by Combining Parallels.
Parallels are situations analogous to ours. They can come from a different company or industry. Sometimes these ideas are used in a different context or for a different purpose. In fact, parallels may not even come from business, but from other life situations.
One of the principle ideas of sales innovation is Combine Unrelated Ideas. Consider these famous examples: Joseph Pulitzer combined expensive high-speed printing with lucrative large scale advertising to create mass-circulated newspapers. Henry Ford combined Adam Smith’s division of labor and Eli Whitney’s assembly line (although, the Ford Motor Company learned of the moving assembly line through William “Pa” Klann’s visit to Swift & Company’s slaughterhouse in Chicago) to create the first moving assembly line in manufacturing and, subsequently, the first affordable car. My personal favorite is Johannes Gutenberg’s combination of a coin punch and wine press to create the first moveable-type printing press. Each took two well-known ideas and combined them to create a third, totally novel innovation.
In this step of the Innovative Sale Process, Combine Parallels, we put different ideas together, like pieces of a puzzle.
Doreen Lorenzo, president of Frog Design, uses a process similar to combining parallels. “We use provocations … something that might not have anything to do with the particular topic you’re working on, but it will provoke you to think about the ideas differently.” For idea generation, Frog brings people together to think of provocations for a particular client problem. Each provocation leads them to other ideas. After a while, the ideas can be categorized into groups, based on similarities. “It’s really interesting how it unfolds,” says Lorenzo. “It becomes a linear path and we begin to see how these ideas play into something that has value. Through the provocations, unconnected ideas begin to come together.
“Through this process, we’re trying to grow the mind to think about something differently. Businesses have an incredibly elastic memory and they always go back to what they know. It’s so absolutely scary to do something different. It’s so much easier to be gray than to be red.”
Combining parallels is an exercise in gathering more raw materials for idea development. Don’t about the final solution yet; try to think of new ideas without worrying if they’ll fit. Judgment comes later in the creative process.
Last week I discussed breaking conventional sales rules. Contact me at mark.donnolo@with any questions.