The 5 Steps That Truly Drive Innovation

A new book lays out a simple framework to get you—and your business—thinking outside the box

Written by Deborah Aarts

Canadians tend to score reasonably well when it comes to innovation, but that doesn’t make it any easier for entrepreneurs to spark creativity. After all, when running a business, it’s hard to turn your attention away from the day-to-day and toward the next big thing.

In the upcoming book Thinking In New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity, authors Alan Iny and Luc de Brabandere lay out a framework meant to change that. The authors—who specialize in business innovation and product development and innovation at the Boston Consulting Group—assert that you must break free of preexisting beliefs in order to spark the creativity and clarity required to identify bold paths forward. And how do you do that? Iny and de Brabandere looked to how the human mind actually reasons in order to come up with a five-step innovation program. Here’s their prescription:

Step 1: Doubt Everything

Everyone has biases. Whether or not you’re willing to admit it, these hinder your ability to think bigger and look beyond the status quo. That’s why you have to become your own Devil’s Advocate, the authors assert; only when you start to challenge what you’ve believed to be right can you evolve. After all, Iny and de Brabandere write, “All your ideas, even the most successful, are hypotheses within you—and are not set in stone.”

Read: The 4 Advisors Who Could Save You From Yourself

Step 2: Probe the Possible

This means identifying the transformations that will likely affect not only your company, but also your industry and even the world as a whole. And you don’t need a crystal ball to do it—just some solid brainstorming. What to consider? The authors lay out a blueprint: “Explore who your future clients, customers or followers could be, what they’ll need and want most, what your competitors will be doing to attract and retain their business, and what global waves of transformation, or megatrends, are expected to occur in different areas of business, culture, technology and society.” This will give you an understanding of the issues at play, what you want to accomplish, and—crucially—what questions you should be asking.

Read: How to Rethink Your Business

Step 3: Diverge

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas,” write Iny and de Brabandere. That means it’s on you to create new models, concepts, ways of thinking and ideas—and lots of them. This is divergent thinking, and it’s where everything comes out. No idea, no matter how silly or short-sighted, is off-limits.

Read: The Key to Brilliant Brainstorming

Step 4: Converge

That blue-sky list you just created? Now’s the time to whittle it down. The authors call this process “convergence”—in other words, testing ideas to see which ones might stick: “Convergence is where your ideas transform from a long list into a more select group, and then eventually down to a still smaller number (or even just one idea) that can be implemented to achieve breakthrough results.” One way of doing this is to holding several rounds of voting with key stakeholders, with the lowest-scoring ideas eliminated in each round. “In this way,” they write, “you can get rid of the ‘noise’ and focus in on those ideas that, as a group, you are the most excited about.

Read: Innovation Made Easier

Step 5: Reevaluate Relentlessly

The harsh reality of business is that no idea remains good forever. That’s why Iny and de Brabandere say it’s essential to regularly evaluate what you’re doing. “A fundamental requirement in this step is agility, a penchant for taking thoughtful risks and learning from examined failure,” they state.

Often, Step 5 loops back to Step 1, starting the whole process over again. Sound frustrating? Quite the contrary. According to the authors, the key objective of the entire cycle is “to help you foster a new kind of creative process that is not only practical, but also sustainable, enabling you and your organization to sustain your creativity over the long haul.”

Read: How to Take a Great Idea From Mind to Market

Originally appeared on