Are you looking for a new source of innovative ideas for your business? One of the best ways to spark innovation is by reviving dead ideas from your business’s past.
Innovation is typically seen as “all about the new,” so the idea of looking back at old ideas may seem antithetical to creativity. But starting fresh every time can force you to constantly reinvent the wheel, which can waste time and energy. Revisiting old ideas—with a fresh eye, of course—is an often-overlooked way of getting a head start on innovation.
Not every failed or flawed idea deserves re-animation, of course. But developing a system for cataloging, revisiting and assessing old ideas can pay off in new ways. Here are some suggestions.
Capture ideas as they occur. In some cases, capturing ideas is simple, such as when you’re holding a brainstorming meeting or planning session. Even if you take notes on a whiteboard or presentation pad, make sure someone captures the ideas in a more permanent form (this can be as simple as taking a photo of the whiteboard and saving it online). Don’t just document the final ideas, either; also take note of ideas that come up along the way. Put someone in charge of the idea-capture process so the task gets done every time.
In other cases, capturing ideas is not so simple. For instance, ideas employees toss around informally for improving a process or system might never make it to the boss (that is, you). Consider having a monthly “ideas download” where employees are encouraged to share any ideas they may have had over the past month. This doesn’t even have to be an in-person meeting; you could ask employees to give you ideas in writing or start a file in Google Docs that everyone contributes to. Have someone take ownership of overseeing this process, ensuring follow-through, sorting and categorizing the ideas so they can be easily accessed later on.
Periodically review old ideas. How often you revisit the past is up to you. Reviews might be occasion-based, such as reviewing related ideas when you are starting on a new project. For instance, if you’re trying to come up with a name for a new product, you might want to look over old ideas for naming products. If you’re launching a new business services division, review ideas you had for business services in the past. You should also set periodic reviews, such as every six months or once a year, when you go over all the old ideas to see if something new can come out of them.
Speaking of something new, as you review old ideas, try to involve new members of your team. You’ll be impressed by how a new employee or an employee who hasn’t been involved in innovation before might look differently at ideas that more experienced members of the team think are stale.
Reconsider your failures. Don’t just review ideas that never got off the drawing board; also consider those that were introduced…and flopped. Think of ways that tweaking a failed idea for a different target customer, different sales channel or different format could bring success. Maybe your product targeted at teenagers bombed, but the same product could succeed if you aimed it at baby boomers. The website idea that never took off could be a winning mobile app. A menu item that sold dismally at dinner could be a hit in the morning hours. (You get the idea.) The key to this method is honestly assessing what went wrong with the idea in the first place so you don’t make the same mistake twice.
How far back should you go? At what point should you discard or stop revisiting old ideas? That depends on your industry and your instincts. You probably don’t need to keep assessing the idea for a modem repair business that you had in 1987. On the other hand, business trends go in cycles, and you never know when an idea from the past can play out in the future.
At some point—probably when rehashing them starts to feel like a grind—you’ll want to stop revisiting certain ideas. But with today’s ease of storing digital documents, there’s no reason to get rid of them. Who knows? That idea you had for a Pet Rock store just might inspire your next big thing.
Do you have a process in place to keep track of old ideas? Let us know in the comments section below.
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