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Looking to give your practice a boost? Here are 10 elements to start an "idea factory"

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If you need a good idea or two to help take your practice to the next level, then you might take a tip from someone who makes idea generation his business: Stephen Harvill. president of Creative Ventures, a strategic consulting firm, Harvill and his team pioneered methods and techniques that have helped companies reach their potential.

Industry professionals attending the 2015 Life Insurance Conference, being held in Arlington, Va. April 13-15, got a taste of those methods and techniques at the conference’s closing general session on Tuesday.

“Companies don’t suffer from a lack of ideas,” said Harvill. “They suffer from lack of knowing what to do to make an ideal impactful.”

To that end, Harvill explained how to find success in “The Idea Factory:” a simple, efficient and repeatable process for developing and realizing ideas — be they for making existing products or services more attractive or building on wholly original and transformative concepts. Over the past 24 years, Harvill has put his “systemic approach” to idea development to use at a wide range of businesses, from Fortune 100 companies to small start-ups.

Over the course of the 75-minute session, Harvill outlined 10 elements that make up “The Idea Factory.” These include:

1. Value

To be innovative as a business, you have to askfor innovation from colleagues. Ideas have to connect directly to value.

2. Genesis

All ideas have beginning and beginnings are fired by emotion. You have to have the ability to capture your idea at “genesis points.”

3. Environment

The place for ideas is important. Most great ideas are developed somewhere other than the standard office environment.

4. Restriction

A property of idea development is that restrictive elements, such as resources or spaces (e.g., one’s garage) seem to encourage creativity.

5. Connections

Ideas are like magnets, connecting to one another and then often connecting to something unseen.


The evolution of ideas

6. Cycle

Ideas gain power through a three-part cycle: genesis, “I get it” (understanding); and “I can do it” (application).

7. Discipline

What you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while. Said Harvill: “You have to commit!”

8. More than me

Though the lone thinker can create something new, teams develop the idea’s energy and dynamics.

9. Evolution

Ideas change and are flexible. They morph, change form and evolve.

10. Simplicity

Simplicity, properly applied, makes an idea deep, elegant and beautiful. Put another way, said Harvill, you have to “practice thoughtful reduction.”

Citing examples of those who have successfully applied his “Idea Factory” concepts, Harvill invoked the names of giants in the history and innovation and invention, starting with the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

Other notables on Harvill’s list made their mark when they could capitalize on their ideas and discoveries — periods in history when their world was to receptive to them. Among the historical figures who benefited from good timing: Caroline Herschel, who discovered several comets, including one that bears her name (35P/Herschel-Rogollet); Elijah, McCoy, a Canadian-American inventor and engineer who secured 57 U.S. patents, most to do with lubrication of steam engines; and the inventor/businessman Thomas Edison, whom Harvill described as an excellent “team-builder” for ideas, including most famously those contributing to the development of the incandescent light bulb.

One who suffered from bad timing — but whose theories proved revolutionary — was the astronomer and physicist Galileo. Harvill said Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism — the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun — was condemned during the inquisition of 1616 and got him arrested.

Emblematic of businesses that have successfully applied Harvill’s concepts, and that are now huge profitable as a result, are HBO, which critics have lauded for its original programming; and 3M Company, which now boasts $20 billion in sales, 50,000 products and nearly 23,000 patents.

Helping to fuel the company’s output of new products, said Harvill, is a decision by management to allow employees to use 15 percent of their work time to experiment with new ideas and concepts, a guideline that was initially limited to a test group within the company.

“This proved hugely successful and so the 15 percent guideline was subsequently extended to all employees,” said Harvill. “Now everyone as the company is free to devote a portion of their work time to thinking, dreaming and collaborating with others on new ideas.”

Without or without company encouragement, he added, you’re free to develop your factory of ideas. But the key is to capture them at the moment of conception — and doing so the old-fashioned way: with pen or pencil and a paper journal.

The electronic variety, he insisted, isn’t as effective because the neural connections through which our brains develop and cultivate ideas are better attuned to traditional print media. 

See more of our coverage of the 2015 Life Insurance Conference:

Barometer survey points to growing impact of Internet in life insurance sales

Prudential exec issues 6 point call for industry transformation at insurance forum

See also:

7 more strategies for increasing sales

The secret sauce of successful firms

8 reasons why companies succeed


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