Retailers are facing new challenges every day. As the retail industry continues to evolve, the problems become tougher. As the market gets more competitive, the stakes become higher. So, it’s essential that you harness the power of innovation to help you overcome these challenges in the fastest AND in the best way possible. But innovation doesn’t really just happen. Not by itself. You need to prepare your brain for solving problems. You need to feed external inspiration sources to help you innovate your retail operation.

In this article, you’ll find 4 ideas to help you give external inspiration to your head.

Now, read the rest of the article to help you understand each one, in particular, exploring examples to help you get the concepts.

1. Talk to experts who have deep knowledge

The first idea here is to talk to experts. These are people with deep knowledge about the problem or potential solutions which could include operators that work in this work in and around the problem on a day to day basis. They’ll have a deep knowledge of that challenge. In turn, they can help you understand how to approach it. They may have solved your precise challenge already.

You could also look at external companies that have really deep understanding and perhaps could offer a solution off the shelf ready for you.

Example – looking for inspiration to overcome a challenge around retail distribution

The exact problem isn’t really critical, but I wanted to give you a setting.

So, talking to experts with deep knowledge could look like:

  • Discussing the status quo with the warehouse operators or drivers.
  • Talking to the team leaders and managers.
  • Reviewing with consultants or suppliers who specialise in this area.
  • Attending industry specific events, conferences and webinars.

2. Look wider within your sector

The second idea is looking around you more. Take a wider viewpoint. For example, look at different categories within your business. Maybe, look at your competitors. Perhaps research and analyse other retailers to understand how they are finding and solving this problem. You could also look overseas in different markets where perhaps that solution you’re looking for already exists.

Example – who else is overcoming that same problem

Using that same example of overcoming the challenge in retail distribution. So, you could look at:

  • Other areas in the business where they are moving stock – store replenishment for example.
  • Researching how your competitors, in other retail businesses are doing this.
  • Reviewing how other supply chain and logistics companies overcome similar problems.
  • Conducting online research using industry portals or research hubs.

3. Think in an abstract way

Third idea is to start thinking in a more abstract way. Look at the problem and break it down in to a less literal conflict. Look at what’s actually happening.

Now, I’m a big fan of this style of problem solving actually. It reminds me of doing TRIZ – a Russian complex problem solving technique.

Example – thinking in an abstract way to overcome a challenge

Continuing to stick with our example of the retail distribution challenge. What’s happening here is stock is being moved, orders are being fulfilled. Think – who else is doing this? Perhaps, look at:

  • Reviewing the postal service or the post office or a courier as they move parcels and letters around.
  • Understanding how an airport works and see how they’re moving the luggage around.

For example, all of these different ideas again, could bring in new ideas. And again, there may already be a ready made solution on the table for you.

4. Using nature’s solution

And the fourth idea is to think really abstract. Look at millions of years of evolution to see how nature has overcome similar situations. I appreciate that perhaps this will seem totally crazy. So, let’s just dive straight into our example!

Example – looking at how evolution has overcome the problem

So, using our retail distribution example one more time. You could look at an ant colony. The ants are continually moving matter such as bits of leaf, soil, food or other substances. Now look at how they work together.

Whilst it sounds way out there, give it a try. Perhaps you’ll find yourself out of your comfort zone, but then again, that’s when new thinking can happen. You don’t have to take a literal idea from nature, but you’re feeding new inspiration to your brain. And this might just give you that exact bit of external inspiration that leads to big innovation. This might just be the spark that you need to light up that big idea.

The bottom line – feed your brain with new sources of information.

That big idea only needs a small snippet of inspiration. All you need to do it find the right snippet of inspiration. So, the best route here is to feed your head and your brain with new and different bits of information. This different stimulus helps up come up with a bright idea. New insight leads to that spark of innovation.

And remember, you only need one bright spark of innovation to come up with the next BIG idea.

If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy reading about De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats.

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert at delivering retail change projects and programmes. He’s led and managed many different types of retail projects, working with a variety of stakeholders. Oliver loves the opportunity to improve and innovate. This brings together his engineering background, his curiosity and his passion for making things better. That’s when he learnt more about the intriguing topic of TRIZ. Connect on LinkedIn and ask me more.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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