Strategies that Trigger Innovative Thinking

by Diana Drake

Whether we are reading applications for our Wharton Summer High School Programs or interviewing teen entrepreneurs on our Future of the Business World podcast, our team at the Wharton Global Youth Program can’t escape a powerful trend: high school students across the globe are embracing the start-up culture. You are launching businesses, nonprofits, online platforms and community activism projects with a pervasive drive to start something new.

Our most recent podcast guest, 16-year-old racial justice activist and software developer Moniola Odunsi, said, “I think a common misperception is that change happens when you’re a certain age, typically an adult age. I completely disagree with this. I sincerely believe that my generation has debunked this theory… A lot of people say we are the future change makers and the future leaders. I would say that we can be and are those people right now.”

Gen Z is a generation of innovators, a core value that will serve you well in all aspects of the business world. Innovation, by definition a new match between a solution and a need, is critical to any corporation’s survival. Embracing experimentation — key to innovation — is not just for entrepreneurs who want to start their own companies, but also those with an entrepreneurial mindset who will use innovation to inspire change in big companies and entire industries.

It’s therefore important to understand what sparks innovation and develop tactics to generate compelling new ideas.

Read Professor Netessine’s article HERE.

Serguei Netessine, the Dhirubhai Ambani Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Wharton School and Wharton’s vice dean of global initiatives, spends a lot of his time thinking about innovation. Recently during the virtual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference, put on annually by the Wharton School’s African American MBA Association, Dr. Netessine presented on “Innovating by Design: Developing the Next Big Idea.”

“The field of innovation is very wide and deep,” noted Netessine, who delivered his conference session with the help of innovation consultant Elsie Iwase. “The only thing that you can do to maximize your chances and increase your odds for finding the great innovation…is to keep generating ideas. You need thousands of ideas to find a few exceptional ideas.”

Netessine highlighted three strategies that he calls “innovation triggers” to help you generate that vast sea of ideas. His three idea triggers are:

  1. Discover inspiration in existing innovations. “I was in the U.K. and noticed caffeine strips,” said Netessine. “You put the strip in your mouth, it melts, and it gives you a boost of caffeine… How can we take inspiration from this existing innovation and come up with some other innovation? We can decompose it into a need and a solution. The need here is clearly caffeine delivery into the human body. The solution is a dissolvable caffeine strip. Let’s decompose it and take just the need and generate a new solution for the need and take the solution and apply this solution to other needs.” Some possible new product innovations? A caffeine patch, caffeine chewing gum and caffeine-infused lotion. On the flip side, dissolvable strips may also deliver vitamins, electrolytes and medicines to the body. ?
  1. Consider socioeconomic, geographical and geopolitical trends. “You can base a startup or innovative idea on a trend,” suggested Netessine, pointing to current movements like Black Lives Matter, living healthy, climate change, COVID-19 and cybersecurity. “You might base a supermarket idea like Whole Foods on the trend that people want to live healthy. Think about the trend, forecast it, and see that it is going to be a bigger trend. As the trend becomes bigger, your idea and startup will also become bigger.” ?
  1. Follow the market for technological innovation. Virtual reality, drones, artificial intelligence, even Tik Tok – these are all hot technologies right now. “Just as you can look at socioeconomic trends, you can look at new technologies and say, ‘Okay, let’s think about a new technology that is coming to the market and just becoming big,’” said Netessine. “If I can think of an idea or a startup that is based on this technology, as this technology matures and becomes bigger, I will be first to the market and will capitalize on this technology before others come. Think how you can use this technology to make an existing business model better.” ?

How will you use idea triggers to think about innovations that could become marketable companies, products or services?

Related Links

Conversation Starters

Do you agree that innovation is a core value of Gen Z? Why or why not?

Have you used one or more of Dr. Netessine’s idea triggers to inspire a new innovation? Which one? Tell your story in the comment section of this article.

Why is experimentation fundamental to innovation?

4 comments on “Strategies that Trigger Innovative Thinking

  1. Overall, I believe the article did an amazing job exposing us to sample, eye-opening methods to ensure success in innovation. One such method presented in this article that I strongly agree with is of reviewing past global trends with the health example sticking out to me. This is something I attempt to conduct in my daily activities. Reflecting on these trends may be extremely useful as a guideline to base innovation on. It essentially tells us what innovators have done correctly and what can be improved. Experimentation may introduce new concepts and ideas for innovation as well as determining flaws in it.

  2. In a broad view, there are thousands of strategies that can trigger innovative thinking, but it’s ultimately dependent upon the thinker to take the first step and delve into the process of thought. Professor Netessine introduced an interesting strategy; discover inspiration in existing innovations. This strategy asks the question “Why recreate the wheel?”, and instead encourages a thinker to refer back to a foundation of existing knowledge and innovations. Some of the most unconventional ideas resulted from a more simple and well-known idea, but with a unique thought process, separated out into an entirely new scheme. A prominent example is Amazon, a massive online retailer that I’m sure we have all purchased from before. This company resulted from the simple idea of transforming a normal brick-and-mortar book store to online. Coupled with a distinct twist and new ideas, this company is now the nation’s largest online marketplace and has an online catalog of more than twelve million products.

  3. I completely agree with Moniola Odunsi viewpoint, as with the help of innovation anyone at any age can become an entrepreneur and can be a future change maker or future leader. The theory that changes happens only at adult age has been proven wrong by so many young entrepreneurs of the current generation and this would go on. One such case is SuperJam. An ordinary jam but with the help of innovation by Fraser Doherty at the age of 15, made it possible to create a jam that is 100% made out of fruit. This creative approach enabled him to create a brand for his product and become the youngest supplier to a major supermarket chain. A simple innovation that revolutionized entire jam industry.
    With developing markets and increase in technological advancements, there is a need for continuous and sustainable innovation to battle out the ever-changing world. This can be seen with Apple’s first innovation of personal computer, phones etc and the strategy of continuous innovation of its product that has helped it to stay in the industry till date and continue to change people’s lives. This trigger of innovation has not only helped apple make ground-breaking products, which made profits, but also helped in create a new market place for key players to make their mark on the world.
    After all what makes people generate innovative ideas, that creates a match between a solution and a need, are the different strategies of innovation triggers. These strategies would depend on person to person and vary in contexts. My personal experience for a strategy that I used to trigger innovation was analogies, a strategy that uses an idea from one area to develop an innovation in a new area. Through this I was able to take inspiration from a bathroom door handle to create a new innovative design for a grocery bag holder. Moreover, as people generate innovative ideas, I feel that one should also take into the consideration the negative impacts of their innovation. Back in 2001, a much-hyped self-balancing vehicle-Segway that promised to revolutionize personal transport through efficient and effective personal vehicle transportation, was regarded as one of the best innovations in transportation history but it didn’t last very long as Segway-Ninebot stopped its production due to the increase in accidents, deaths and malfunctioning of its software that posed a safety threat. The Segway focused on only one application and hence did not explore the various other aspects of the innovation. Thus, experimentation is the key to innovation in order to explore the various impacts both positive and negative that can occur from innovative ideas.

  4. In a broad view, I do believe that this article was a huge eye-opener to the idea of innovation being a success in our future. It also displays how the gen z generation will be the leaders of the future through the use of innovation which I also do see in the future. Moreover, one method presented in this article that I strongly agree with is of reviewing past global trends with the health example sticking out to me. This is because I greatly try to conduct this in my daily activities. It tells us what innovators have achieved and what could also be improved.

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