3 keys to napkin innovation (Brett Duncan)

71334391 Drew's Note:  As I try to do every Friday, I'm pleased to bring you a guest post.  Meet another  thought leader who shares his insights via the blogosphere. So without further ado…Brett Duncan.  Again. Enjoy!

Why is it the best ideas always start on a napkin over dinner?

You know what I’m talking about. You hear inventor and innovators all the time thinking back to when they first had their amazing idea, drafting it out on a napkin. And the rest is history . . . .

It’s easy to pass the napkin off as mere coincidence, but is it really?

I think not. In fact, I think there’s really something to Napkin Innovation, something worth digging into. Here are three reasons why the napkin holds the key to better innovation:

The Setting
OK, when was the last time you had a great idea at your office? I’ve had more ideas in the shower in the past week than I’ve had in my office over the last year. Try as we may, our brains simply can’t accept switching off all the business ideas after 5 p.m. every day. In fact, the fresh air and freedom of a new setting is usually what gets your brain really cooking.

Furthermore, other people help the creative floodgates open. The conversation and different viewpoints get your brain juices boiling. So when you sit down for a meal in a more relaxed, pleasant setting like a restaurant with friends or family, you’re basically insisting that your mind expand. No wonder great ideas can come out of it.

Where you innovate and with whom is extremely important. Don’t wait for it to happen. Get outside of the office with others and give your mind a chance to surprise you.

The Spontaneity
Innovation isn’t on a schedule, and it doesn’t need a routine. But when it strikes, you’ve got to be ready to capture it. Scribbling down your ideas on a greasy napkin isn’t normal, and the dinner table isn’t a typical lab for innovation. It’s this kind of process that you need to get those synapses snappin’.

The whole point of being spontaneous is that it isn’t planned. It’s not something you create, but it is something you can react to, and prepare for. Whether it’s a napkin, scraps of paper or a digital voice recorder, get in the habit of having something to catch all these flashes of brilliance.

The Structure
As important as the setting and spontaneity are, the napkin’s real key to innovation is its smallness. A napkin requires you to be brief. To not get caught up in too many details. To capture the real essence of your idea, and nothing else.

Too many budding ideas are scrapped due to details. “We’ve never done it that way before.” “Our system won’t support that.” “We don’t have the manpower.”

Try this: take an idea that’s pretty complex and sum it up on the space of a small dinner napkin. Prune it until you’ve reached the idea’s core, and nothing more. Then run with it. Move forward with a sense of brevity, of succinctness. Embrace the borders, let them guide you and then go crazy within them.

The Point
Free yourself enough to harness the power of the napkin. Get out of the office, down some wings or something, capture the spontaneous and welcome any constraints upon you. That’s Napkin Innovation.

Brett Duncan is the sole writer of Marketing In Progress, a blog dedicated to making sense of the blur that is marketing communication for small business. He lives in Dallas with his amazing wife April and two-month old son Mason. Email him and learn more.

Every Friday is "grab the mic" day.  Want to grab the mic and be a guest blogger on Drew's Marketing Minute?  Shoot me an e-mail.

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