03/21/2012 10:38 am ET Updated May 21, 2012

Your Innovation Lifejacket: Pull to Inflate

Ever received an email like this one from your boss?

Please send me two to three innovative ideas by close of business tomorrow.

By the way, you open the email at 8:30 p.m. after putting your kids to bed.

OK, so your first reaction is, "what the... " (This may be on the Huffington Post but this blog is family-friendly.)

Your second reaction is brain freeze, as if you just chugged a Slurpee. That's what panic will do to you.

Your third reaction (hopefully) is to start thinking, "Now what am I going to do?"

That's when you should reach for the following "Innovation Lifejacket" -- quick questions to ask yourself to get the ideas bubbling. Remember, your boss didn't ask for a business plan, just ideas.


KIIS -- Keep It Intuitive, Stupid.

This one is all about "ease of use." The payoff is that there are usually lots of potential customers not using your offering because they see or experience it as too complicated. God bless our engineers but they sure do love to, well, over-engineer things. Let you be the counter-balance to your engineers.

Example: I just opened a Square account to take credit card purchases for my book at speaking engagements using my iPhone. Everything about setting it up was easy. Everything. I'm sure I ended up making trade-offs that I haven't even learned about this early in the game but so far, I'm in love.

Strip Show

This is a close relative to first one. There is always a market for a version of your product or service with less functionality. It's a simple fact that people only want to buy what they really want. When we load up the bells and whistles we run the risk of turning off potential customers. They may be outside the United States or they may be a population you don't want to associate your brand with for fear of tarnishing it. But at least they're paying customers.

Example: QuickBooks Online -- not as a shining example but as an offering that can strip down even further for someone like me.

3. PIY -- Pump It Yourself

This is the self-service option. Shift your low-end customers to a lower cost checkout option to reserve higher-end customers for your talented sales staff.

Example: I was in my local Apple store recently with a friend who was ready to buy a $1,800 MacBook Pro. I tagged along and decided to see what they had for propping up my iPad. He picked out his laptop; I picked out my $30 cookbook stand. A different store employee came up to me and asked me if I was ready to buy the stand. I said "yes" and she said, "do you have your iPhone on you?" She then showed me the EasyPay function through the Apple store app where I could check myself out with no employee help. It's way smarter to give the high touch service to the $1,800 sale than the $30 one.

Bonus Sources

Ugh Moments

This one is a bit more general. Look for moments as your customers experience your product or service where they struggle. Therein lies an opportunity for innovation -- to make the experience more relevant or useful to your customer, not to you.

Backroom Innovation

Use Osterwalder, Pigneur, and Smith's Business Model Canvas to help you think about opportunities for innovation in the other parts of your business model besides products and services. How about different channels or supplier relationships?