The Innovation Green Cross Code

So you’ve got an idea. You think it is really amazing, original and innovative and everyone you talk to is like, ‘Yeh that’s so cool, makes you wonder why no one has thought to do that before. You ROCK!

Spoiler alert – Maybe you do rock, but someone has thought of doing it before! With billions living on the planet, unless you are a super niche specialist in a new emerging field, the chances are someone has thought of doing it before and is probably trying to sell it. In fact, even if you are that super nich specialist, history suggest others will still be working on the same idea independently, a phenomenon known as simultaneous invention.

Don’t be disheartened, your idea is probably still a great starting point and, more importantly, so to is your enthusiasm and the unique insights and perspective that drew you to it. These are the rock on which your innovation will be built, the idea just an early blueprint.

So, drawing on the old road safety campaign the Green Cross Code, this is what you should be doing next:

Stop – Put down the pen and stop designing how your idea will look, writing your business plan, creating the marketing campaign. Take a breather from doing things right and consider whether you are doing the right thing.

Look – I challenge you to go out and find the closest thing to your idea out there. Look really hard, it may be in a different market, region or academic discipline, now or in the past. You may have to try lots of different terminology to find it, but chances are you will find more than one really similar concept out there.

Listen – Now find out who created it, or failing that people who use it. Reach out to them and learn from their experience, what support did they need, what mistakes did they make. Don’t just assume your ideas is better, be open to the strengths of the alternatives you’ve found and the challenges your idea will also face.

Think – You need to integrate what you’ve learnt into your idea and how you’ll deliver it. This is not about comparing your idea against the alternatives it is about how to align, work with or otherwise make differentitate your concept.

At worst you’ve done your competitor analysis early, but maybe you’ve learnt where you need to develop/target your idea, maybe you can collaborate someone you’ve found developing something similar or build on top of the tools they’ve developed. If their idea already meets the need you’ve identified, could you work with them to convert it for your use or resell for your market. If your idea is better but they have the market tied-up, consider licensing it to them or building a plugin/extension for their product.

Put simply,

  • stop just doing things right and make sure you are doing the right things,
  • look for pre-existing alternatives so you don’t reinvent the wheel,
  • listen to their experience so you can learn from their mistakes,
  • think about how this can make what you do better.

And if it turns out your idea has been done before and exactly as you imagined it, remember ideas are ten a penny – it is your insights, expertise and dedication that is the key to innovation. You are unique and you still ROCK!