Five mindsets for tourism business innovation

15 Apr

Here’s a glimpse of an interactive workshop I delivered earlier this week at the 2010 Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism. It was great fun working with such an energetic, creative bunch!

Innovation is the process of “creating something useful through the implementation of new ideas.” Where do new ideas come from? Often, new ideas are sparked by borrowing, adapting or connecting existing ideas from diverse sources. Ideas percolate to the surface through experiences and observation of the world around us. Ideas gain energy from conversation and, like a kite, from resistance. Finally, ideas ride waves of historical and social context, as big trends align to shape clusters of opportunity.

Scientist Linus Pauling said that “the best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas, and then throw away the bad ones.”  The first take-away from his message? Have confidence that you can generate abundant ideas. The second take-away? All your initial ideas won’t be good ones!

Whatever the source, most initial ideas emerge only half-baked.  The following five mindsets can help you generate, recognize and develop promising ideas into innovative and viable business products.

Pair unlikely bedfellows: Combining diverse concepts into a new idea is a classic exercise in creativity.  For example, Escape Rentals, a New Zealand based camper van rental company, commissions local artists to paint unique exteriors for each of its vans. This combination of arts promotion and camping ties together several elements of the local tourism economy.

Feature flaws: In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, writer Scott Anthony coined this phrase as an innovation tactic. He points to early international eco-tourism destinations that positioned remoteness and lack of creature comfort as value-added features. Kentucky’s Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp provides another example of featuring the flaw. This steep remote valley  has been brought vividly to life by recorded oral histories and “ghost structures” of buildings no longer standing. The lack of detailed physical reconstruction frees the imagination to travel back in time.

Push extremes: Bungee jumping is an extreme sport for sure, but it’s also an example of pushing an idea to the extreme: in this case, “what if we could jump off high bridges without getting hurt?” (I must confess that is not MY idea of a good time!)  Another example? Traveleyes is a British company that organizes tours for mixed groups of visually impaired and sighted travelers. Its extreme premise is to deliver multiple ways of “seeing” the world, to the mutual benefit of both types of traveler.

Shrink concepts: This doesn’t necessarily mean cutting the cost of a product or service, but it does mean peeling away what’s unessential or even counterproductive. A great example of this idea in action is Vocation Vacations, an Oregon-based company that enables potential career-changers to “test drive a dream job” through structured, short term mentorships. It shrinks career exploration into 1-3 day immersion experiences throughout the country with mentors for over 125 potential new careers.

Flip ideas: Remember when fast food and exotic global cuisine were all the rage? Now, it’s “Slow Food”, locally sourced, that draws attention. This is a perfect example of “flipping an idea” to its opposite as a new business asset. Oregon-based Wanderlust Tours flipped an idea when it expanded upon its moonlight canoe tour, which had been offered 3-4 nights a month under full moons. The newer “starlight canoe tour” enables Wanderlust to offer canoe tours every night of the month!

Of course, innovation involves more than just sitting around and generating new ideas! As framed by Randy Harrington of Oregon-based Extreme Arts and Sciences, innovation occurs across four phases of the business cycle: while executing business as usual, while exploring new ideas (discovery), while testing new products and services, and while developing resources for scaling up. The five mindsets described above are useful across all phases of the innovation cycle. Use them to shake up your thinking and make your initial idea kernels pop!