In a thorough overview, management consultant McKinsey describes how businesses can promote creativity among employees. The authors, Marla Capozzi, a senior expert in McKinsey’s Boston office; Renée Dye, in Atlanta; and Amy Howe in Los Angeles, provide some dramatic examples that could spark ideas for your financial planning practice.  

Get Personal Experience

According to the authors, managers need in-person experience of the competition and firms with very different niches. For example, a specialty retailer wanted to reinvent its store format, so the company sent out teams of three to four employees to stores that looked very different from their own. A team of senior executives from a global retail bank visited branches of two competitors and a local Apple retail store.

Odd as it may sound to send your employees off to pretend to be prospective clients at other firms, they’d come back with a new perspective. You might ask them to look at other firms’ websites or attend pubic meetings.

And if your firm is large enough, you might ask employees to pretend to be prospective clients at your own firm.

Examine Your Assumptions

Ask yourself:

What business are we in?

What level of customer service do people expect?

What would customers never be willing to pay for?

What channel strategy is essential to us?

Then imagine different answers than those that came to mind automatically.

Use Analogies

In testing and observing 3,000 executives over a six-year period, professors Clayton Christensen, Jeffrey Dyer, and Hal Gregersen, in a Harvard Business Review article, noted that most powerful way to innovate was to make connections across “seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.”

Ask yourself, or your employees, such questions as:

How would Google manage our data?

How might Disney engage with our consumers?

How could Southwest Airlines cut our costs?

How would Zara redesign our supply chain?

How would Starwood Hotels design our customer loyalty program?

Create Constraints

Another brainstorming technique is to set up imaginary restraints. For example, what if any of the following were true:

You can interact with your customers only online.

You can serve only one consumer segment.

The price of your product is cut in half.

Your largest channel disappears overnight.

You must charge a fivefold price premium for your product.

According to the authors, one credit card retailer tried this approach, imagining that “We can’t talk to customers on the phone,” “We can’t make money on interchange fees,” and “We can’t raise interest rates.” The end result was that they were better prepared for subsequent regulation that restricted increases in interest rates.