Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
June 4, 2019  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Innovating the distributor business model requires identifying and considering options that are a break with the past, and a move toward offering new and different customer experiences, reinvented supplier partnerships or breakthrough operational productivity. Brainstorming is a useful tool for generating new ideas, but one that is poorly understood and often misused. Rather than aiding the creative process, bad brainstorming can reinforce outdated assumptions or work against engaging people and teams in the innovation process. At worst, brainstorming can be used by cynical managers as a way to push an agenda through biased facilitation that works toward a predetermined conclusion.

A recent article on Medium provides a three-step process for brainstorming. The process is one used by The Onion for more than 30 years to create hilarious articles. It works and is entirely appropriate for distributors. Not to produce comedy, but to generate innovative ideas that shock the status quo. The result of a distributor’s innovation initiatives may or may not be a radical change, but effective innovation processes always think wide before narrow. It is crucially important to consider a range of options before settling on the final path.

I’ve transcribed The Onion’s three-step process and added my thoughts for distributors gained through my ongoing research for the upcoming Facing the Forces of Change® report, which will be published in November (sign up here to be notified when you can preorder it). The original article is worth a read. Read it and draw your conclusions for your brainstorming process.

  1. Create ideas alone. Working alone to generate ideas does not mean sitting alone in a room with an empty pad of paper. Working alone requires curiosity. It requires continually seeking ideas through reading, conversations and field trips so you can experience innovations. It’s sometimes hard to think about your business when you are in your business. Working alone to create ideas may best be done offsite at a coffee shop, park, museum or any other place away from work.
  2. Vet ideas as a group. As your company starts to use brainstorming as an innovation technique, the leader of the brainstorming effort should consider the make-up of the group and evaluate personal styles and agendas. It’s essential that the team work together effectively. Platitudes like “no idea is a bad idea” are not particularly useful for managing team dynamics. It may be necessary to have multiple vetting sessions before arriving at a final list of innovations to vet.
  3. Build on the best ideas together. Brainstorming team members should be involved in the ongoing process to see it through to the end. This approach is rewarding for all individuals and can promote a culture of innovation as people work on defining goals, gaining approval and executing changes. Some ideas will succeed and others won’t, but the goal of distributor innovations should be to create an ongoing process that acts as a virtuous circle yielding better and better results over time.

As an operationally focused, metrics-driven organization, distributor cultures can tend to lean toward reinforcing current practices and defending them against change. Some distributors have strong, top-down management cultures. These observations may or may not be the norm, but if they describe your business, it is essential that you and your team implement brainstorming as a carefully crafted process with sponsorship from your top leaders.

As I write this post, I found this article on The Onion, “Innovative Business Always on fhe Cutting Edge of What Other Companies Have Been Doing for a Few Years.” It is funny and contains some sage advice for distributors as they push toward the future with business innovations that are a break from the past.

Medium is one of my “go to” sources for fresh ideas and strong points of view for my ongoing research for the next Facing the Forces of Change® report. If you read this post and have different experiences or ideas, please reach out to share your takeaways with me at mark.dancer@network4channelinnovation.com.

And, if you’d like to be among the first to preorder NAW’s next Facing the Forces of Change® study, submit this form.

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Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer founded the Network for Channel Innovation to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence for channel innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between channel leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve channel excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.

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