How to Generate Innovative Ideas



Cory Bennett
05/03/2011

It’s not just traditional managers who have to "manage" people at work, according to Philip Bennett. Bennett, an executive vice president of at online stock trading service OptionsXpress, emphasizes the concept of "managing up," in addition to the more traditional sense of "managing down."

"I came out of a sales background, but I answer to somebody who came out of a finance background and we speak different languages that aren’t always compatible," Bennett said. "It’s important to speak in terms that he understands."

Bennett calls this approach "managing up." It could include a simple conversation or a formal presentation, but knowing how to manage your supervisor is critical to generating innovative ideas in an organization. Bennett also "manages down" in his position.

"When you’re managing down to a team that reports to you, you have a certain responsibility to understand what they need and get that accomplished," Bennett said. "You have the same responsibility to your supervisor and have to understand what their drivers are. Telling them how [your idea] can make their life easier, for example, might be a very important driver."

Bennett, who runs an innovation team at OptionsXpress has experience managing down to generate forward-thinking ideas from frontline customer service representatives as well as managing up to bring those ideas to other departments and the CEO. He is a speaker at this year’s 12th Annual Call Center Week in Las Vegas, presenting the aptly titled session, "How to Be Innovative and Get Your Ideas Heard!"

The session, which Bennett promises will be interactive to display idea generation in effect, will discuss ways to identify the concepts that will move a company forward.

"Most innovation teams focus on that next big idea," Bennett said. "But if you focus on smaller ideas that maybe come from your front line staff, maybe about performing business processes better, you can end up being extraordinarily innovative because those are ideas that can’t be copied since business processes are going to be different from firm-to-firm."

When striving for efficient business processes, many companies look to vendor solutions. To determin the merits of these solutions, Bennett suggests skepticism and soliciting myriad opinions.

"We try to get buy-in from different departments," he said, expressing the particular importance of buy-in from the IT department to create a "united front to talk to other business units or the CEO."

Similar procedures can identify the new technology trends that will have long-term viability. Research, patience and planning are all critical to recognizing useful new technologies. As an example, Bennett mentioned the patience required over the last three years to wait for voice analytics to become a robust solution for most call centers.

"You need to educate yourself, listen to webinars, talk to a lot of vendors," he said, mentioning another new technology – social media – that companies need to have patience with, and a structured plan for, prior to adopting. "New technologies tend to over-promise and under-deliver. You want to look at it as it’s developing."

Listen to CMIQ’s full interview with Bennett above.

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