The future of your business relies on your organization's ability to generate new ideas.

Around this time of year, financial organizations will invite you to their economic forecasts. You pull up a chair with Styrofoam coffee in hand to the Powerpoint, and the presenter will click a series of bar graphs. There is a trend line. There is talk of contrarian economic indicators. There are thinly veiled attempts at not being politically partisan.

If you have been to one of these, you may have left feeling deflated.

With a five-year horizon, it seems there is little influence you can have on shaping our economy. However, according to some economic forecasts from around the world, there is one metric over which you can have influence, and it has a deep impact: our need for new ideas.

This need is made apparent in the analysis of what economists call productivity. That is simply the amount of inputs required to produce outcomes. Globally, productivity has been dropping for years. Currently, there is increased human capital and expenditures for small or incremental rewards.

It is likely you have experienced this trend within your business. We focus on implementing within the constraints we establish.

New ideas are not just cute or fun. The health of your business in the future is dependent upon creating an environment in which innovation can occur.

“I am a believer that, in general, people spend far too little time devoted to trying to come up with ideas and far too much time in executing on day-to-day things that could be transformed through the power of ideas,” Steve Levitt, economist and co-author of Freakonomics.

New ideas are not just cute or fun. The health of your business in the future is dependent upon creating an environment in which innovation can occur. It is a mindset — a way to think that will shake loose creative notions about the future of your business.

The problem is: Just where do these new ideas come from?

They rarely come from thinking harder about the same circumstances. Often, they seem to materialize out of nowhere. We leave new ideas to chance. Or we believe that new ideas are the responsibility of visionaries. However, there are many frameworks for generating ideas.

You can try this one on and see what happens. It is a scaled back version of an exercise we do at Bigwidesky called Transpiration. Here is how it goes:

  1. Gather a group of stakeholders involved in setting the strategy.
  2. Create an unlikely scenario that takes place 20 years in the future. Example: It is 2038 and Amazon has relocated to St. Louis <not-so-subtle wink>.
  3. Answer the prompt: And then this would happen… Use sticky notes and line up at least four or five of them. These are called continuation visions.
  4. Follow the same procedure and answer the prompt: And then this would NOT happen… These are collapse visions.
  5. Lining up the continuation and collapse visions, you can begin to play more notes on the visions to build narratives (then this happens, then this happens). Spend 20 minutes asking questions and creating more detail as to what the future may hold.
  6. What you will begin to see are repeated ideas. Those are the signals that may blow up into trends. Spend 20 minutes looking for these patterns.
  7. Collect the signals and use them as the basis for creating new ideas for the company.

Do not be concerned with performing this perfectly. The point is to develop the muscle memory for unlocking creative vision. By creating rituals like this, organizations can become more agile. They can also create visions of the future that have depth and weight.