FORUM: LOOKING BEYOND THE BORDERS FOR INNOVATION: BREAK OLD PATTERNS TO DISCOVER CREATIVE IDEAS LURKING NEARBY

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Innovation is not just for Webgeeks and propellerheads, although sometimes it seems that way. People go nuts over Nintendo's latest videogame platform; they wax ecstatic over each "cool" idea on the Internet. Would that marketing innovations got that kind of attention-not so much from the world at large but from marketers themselves.

Marketing is by definition a creative business, but it tends not to generate the innovative focus and energy commonly associated with technological breakthroughs. In fact, marketers frequently are accused of being too fixated on safe pathways to short-term volume gains to risk new ideas.

Finding a way to satisfy the need for innovation is becoming one of the most talked-about issues at the most senior levels of marketing companies, where progressive executives understand that creating an energetic culture of innovation, is a key propellant of market share growth.

The question is where do you start? Fortunately, the answer is not that complicated. The road to innovation almost always starts with personal leadership. This often means taking a personal interest in things that initially seem foreign, irrelevant or both.

Here's a list of things you can do as an individual to break old patterns and start to think like the innovator every marketer should be.

nInhale new media-try picking up magazines you've never read or watching TV shows you've never seen. If you usually read fiction, try non-fiction. If you always start your day with coffee and The New York Times, maybe you should try ginseng and Fast Company-a magazine published by a band of ex-Harvard Business Review rebels. Take a look at 'zines like Bikini, Ray Gun, Face, Nick for Kids and Red Herring.

Bungee jump into alien cultures-when you take a vacation, don't just soak up the sun, take note of the products, the advertising, the nooks and crannies of the local culture that just might spark a new idea. Actually, you don't have to go far to find alien happenings. Just go to places in your own neighborhood you've never been-that video arcade, indoor playground or the Jamaican restaurant serving goat's head soup.

Slam dance with strangers-innovative people seldom are loners. Just think about how many times you've arrived at epiphany by bouncing an idea back and forth with another person until it smacks you both right between the eyes. There are limits to such collaboration, as we all know the perils of innovation by committee-a contradiction in terms if there ever was one.

Cook in a "kitchen of the mind"-Mike Vance, a creative guru and futurist, originated the idea of creating a room or just a wall where interesting ideas are on display. Creating a "kitchen of the mind" is a new and different approach to raising the awareness level of innovation within a company. We have cork-paneled walls at our agency that display ads, packages, toys-all kinds of new and different stuff-from all over the world. Our walls have become a kind of avant-garde art form themselves, changing by the hour. Everyone, including our clients, has fun getting involved.

Hug some kids-much of the spirit of innovation is childlike, in fact. Talking to kids, either your own or others', about what's really on their minds is of pivotal importance. You may hear some surprising things. At the very least you'll establish a pipeline into the most fertile, inquisitive and open minds on earth.

nParty out of bounds-have the kind of fun you had only as a child. Remember how much you used to enjoy show-and-tell as a kid? Why not bring it back as an adult? Not only is show-and-tell by marketing people an innovative and energizing event in its own right, it just about guarantees that everyone on your staff will always be on the look-out for something extraordinary to present.

The more competitive people get, the better the results-and the better the chances you'll arrive at some actionable, growth-inducing new ideas.

Mr. Meyer is president of Fusion 5, Westport, Conn., a marketing agency that specializes in innovation marketing.

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