Inspiration for business innovation can come from anywhere. For Matt Griffin, it came from a batch of brownies he made a few years ago. While enjoying the treat, he realized that his favorite parts were the corners. So he designed the $35 Baker’s Edge’s Edge Brownie Pan that hit the million dollar selling mark last year. Not that everyone with a business administration degree wants to go into a food business. But the experience that Griffin had offers a number of lessons in how to make creativity work for the business world.
1. Pay Attention to Fleeting Thoughts All great ideas start with a thought. In Griffin’s case, it was the recognition of how much many people liked the corner sections of a baked good. But such an idea is good only if you keep hold of it. Experts in creativity say that keeping a notebook handy is important, because it lets you record thoughts when you have them. It doesn’t matter if most go nowhere. You’re writing them down so the few gems don’t get missed.
2. Look for Your Resources Giffin had married a pastry chef, who could provide important insight and technical expertise. In any company, you have people with different backgrounds and interests. When is the last time you considered the collective expertise of the employees? It may go nowhere, but you don’t know until you ask, and you might just find some people who can help your new idea make a go of it.
3. Challenge Standard Wisdom Companies often get the advice to outsource manufacturing overseas, where it’s cheap. Griffin’s new company went to China to manufacture the new pans, and it was a mistake. It would take at least two months for product to ship from overseas, and then there would be additional time in clearing customers. The total became a three-month wait. That meant he had to keep higher inventory levels, and tie up the cash necessary to maintain them. Now, Griffin has a U.S.-based factory manufacture the pans and he can turn orders around in a week.
4. Follow Through Of course you need to follow an idea with action. The best concept means nothing if it remains just that. But there’s a different type of follow-through to consider. Does your business idea suggest natural extensions? Griffin’s company went from its pan with a serpentine channel that ensured every brownie had two crisp and two soft edges to a larger version that did the same for a batch of lasagna, so everyone could have a corner piece.
5. Protect the Concept Griffin got a patent on the pan concept. As we’ve mentioned before, intellectual property can be a powerful strategic weapon. So adequately protect the new concept from poaching competitors. The process may not be as easy as pie — or brownies — but it’s effective and something you can start applying in your career today.