big ideas

Five ways to generate ideas for your business

Originally published on April 16, 2014 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail.


I was recently asked what I considered the best practices a business owner can adopt to stimulate growth. Full disclosure: I struggle with the term ‘best practices.’ It seems so absolute. For any of us who have been in our own businesses, we know that there’s nothing definitive about the best ways to get things done.

So instead of best practices, I like to think of these as the five steps that I have found helpful in stimulating ideas, change and growth in my own businesses, and those I have worked with. Let me frame these steps with one overriding thought: “Great ideas aren’t found in your screensaver. If you tilt your head up, just a little bit, there is a world of opportunity right in front of you.” Stimulating growth is a proactive, everyday activity involving all your senses.

1. Get out of the office. It’s tough, I understand. We all get caught up in our business’ front-burner issues. But you need to make time to regularly break away, get out of the office and get inspired by what others are doing. It’s simple. Attend conferences. Not just those for your industry, but those serving other industries to give you fresh perspectives, go to a workshop or join a peer mastermind group. If you manufacture consumer goods or are a retailer, look for clues about what consumers are thinking, saying and doing. Walk, don’t cab, when visiting another city. Take time to window – or mystery-shop, to see what product leaders in other categories are doing. Above all, join relevant LinkedIn groups and read the latest industry news and comments. This torrent of industry intelligence provides immediate inspiration and feedback, as well as resource experts and potential prospects to exchange ideas with.

2. Listen more, speak less. When I shifted from running a manufacturing business to being a consultant, I was told that if I was speaking more than one-third of the time, I wasn’t doing enough listening – and that meant that I was going to miss the challenges and pain-points my clients were expressing. Learn to do the same thing in your business. Listen to your customers. Take them for lunch every quarter or so, just to talk. Ask them what’s keeping them up at night and what they are worried about six, 12 and 18 months down the line. There’s no better way to grow your business than to solve your customers’ challenges before your competitors do.

3. Realize that you are not an island. Most entrepreneurs start their businesses as one or two people, often out of their homes. But as business grows, you must recognize that you have a team – employees, advisers, friends who see and hear things different things on a daily basis. They generate ideas and from these ideas come opportunities. Make sure you have a system to solicit and capture their input. Remember, when you choose your advisers (or set up a formal advisory board), make sure that some of them represent industries other than your own. You can always benefit from additional perspectives.

4. Don’t forget to change the oil. You wouldn’t change the oil in your car once a year. The engine would sputter and die. Ditto for a business. Its engine needs to be continuously primed with ideas for new, better and improved products, processes and services. These keep your customers engaged and buying (more) from you. The days are long gone when you could make the exact same product for years, or confine innovation to once-a-year corporate retreats.

5. Set up an ideas board in your office or business meeting room. As ideas come up, don’t write them on the back of napkin, put them up on the board. Monthly, run these ideas by your internal team and your advisors. Choose a couple that you believe make the most sense. Then run the ideas by your customers at your next quarterly lunch. These are the people who buy what you sell. Let them weigh in. If they like your new ideas, you might just close your first sale.

Keep your ears and eyes open. Stay engaged. Listen. Relevant opportunities are being offered to you every day. They are your next step forward.

No comments

World Attention to Mississauga, Ontario


BuildingsA simple online design competition in 2005 generated an innovative structure that has lifted Mississauga, Ontario to worldwide attention.  Mississauga’s Absolute World Towers achieved global acclaim as winner of the Emporis Skyscraper Award, the world’s most renowned architecture prize for skyscrapers.

“Innovation is all around us.  It is generated by those thinking beyond the traditional.  The Absolute World Towers are examples of thinking beyond the traditional and a visual representation of innovation in the heart of Mississauga,” said Ken Tencer, CEO, Spyder Works Inc.  “As an innovation enthusiast and thought-leader, I couldn’t be more proud that they are in my own backyard.”

Skyscrapers are commonly built on straight lines with each floor being the same as the one before.  The Absolute World Towers were designed to be more natural, more human, with none of the 428 condo units being exactly alike.  “By considering how to uniquely appeal to today’s consumers, and not simply repeat the standard, brands can bring innovation to their concepts thereby keeping your business fresh and customers coming back,” stated Tencer.

“The way the two structures twist organically by up to 8 degrees per floor is not just a superb technical achievement, but also a refreshing change to the set forms of high-rise routine,” stated the Emporis Skyscraper Award panel of experts in explaining the choice of the pair of towers.

The Emporis Skyscraper Award is the only prize for high-rise buildings awarded annually and on a global basis.  Award winners are selected by a panel of architecture experts from around the world.

Ken Tencer, and co-author John Paulo Cardoso’s latest book, Cause a Disturbance explores winning through innovation.  It’s about surprising and delighting your customers and solving their problems.  Are you ready to cause a disturbance? Pre-order your copy today at


1 Comment

Simple Packaging Innovation Leads to Big Brand Rewards


National brands are generally the end result of big investment, big ideas and big marketing. So why am I finding that my own consumer choices are being increasingly influenced and determined by niggly little things instead of the big picture?

One of the little things that got hammered this revelation home for me what the security seals on meal replacements. Both Ensure and Boost are nationally advertised, similar tasting and priced about the same. One has simple perforated plastic ring that you break when you twist off the cap. The other has a foil seal with teeny tiny tabs that you remove with your fingernails if they’re strong enough to apply about 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. If they’re not, you have to stab the seal with a knife. It may seem like a small thing. But, when you think about it, this is product category primarily focused on an older demographic that is even less dextrous than me. Why put these consumers through hassle when the whole point of your product is to make their lives easier?

Getting to the actual product in the package is the ultimate pay-off for every brand. Which is why I don’t buy loose charcoal for the barbecue anymore. Why hunt for scissors to cut open a bag and then pour out the briquettes in a storm cloud of charcoal dust when I can choose a brand that lets me toss the whole bag into the barbecue and use one match on the bag to light it? This is brilliant. I am betting the idea came from a product manager who actually has a charcoal barbecue and uses it.

And while I’m on the subject of barbecuing, I want to commend the people at Maple Leaf who had the foresight to package Prime Chicken in leak-proof trays. Thanks to food safety experts, we  know that handling raw chicken and plutonium are about equally deadly, but many grocery stores continue to wrap their chicken trays so the raw chicken juice manages to leak out the bottom. With Prime, I can confidently purchase poultry without a hazmat suit.

After investing mightily in what’s in the package and on the package, I would encourage brands to invest more time in thinking about how consumers open the package; which is one of your product’s most important brand touch-points. It may be a small thing, but I suspect it influences more purchasing decisions than they believe.

Maybe it’s time to refocus some focus groups on collecting insights about that moment of truth when consumers experience products for the first time. After all, the product experience outweighs all of the brilliant and cunning marketing that gets them to the point of trying it. The real beating heart of innovation is simply answering the unmet need. It doesn’t have to be a big unmet need. But if that unmet need you’ve met is something your competition isn’t doing, you will win.

I will buy a battery with a best-before date on it before a battery that makes me guess. I will choose a network provider that continually tells me how much bandwidth I have left for the same reason. People are only loyal to brands as long as the brands work for them. As soon as your brand creates angst in my life, I’m unfriending you faster than you can say salmonella.

No comments