In a business, who should be on the lookout for 'concepts'? Concepts can occur to anyone at any time, so the answer is that it is everybody's business to look for new concepts.
The concepts that will make a real difference to an organisation are the 'value concepts'. These should be designed and delivered as part of an organisation's strategy.
You might come up with a creative idea by chance, but the use of deliberate creative techniques, such as lateral thinking, can greatly increase the production of such ideas. In the same way, the production of new concepts can be greatly increased by direct focus via a Concept R&D department.
The Concept R&D department would address concept needs in its own right and in response to other departments. To begin with, such concept needs can be expressed in vague terms.
Once the focus has been set – and it can be very vague if necessary – then the next step is to look around for standard ways of delivering that concept. These do not have to be particularly original or very creative. The risk of a new idea is reduced if such methods are known to work.
You might have a specific idea with immediate value. More frequently there is the 'beginning' of an idea which then needs a lot more work before the clear benefits can be seen.
As in all creative and design work, 'value sensitivity' is crucial. How can you be sure that you are moving towards a significant value? How can you be sure which values you are giving up in order to obtain other values? Modifying an idea slightly can produce a great increase in value.
There are times when a strategy is provided by the concept itself. Or a strategy becomes a way of delivering a particular concept.
More frequently, concepts represent ingredients. Strategy represents cooking the cake and concepts are the ingredients that go into the cooking process. That is why separating the 'strategy process' from the 'concept development process' is useful.
Once a strategy is formulated, the concepts are expected to fit in with that strategy. This is a valuable approach in itself but at the same time it could limit the development of new concepts, since the strategy might be based on old concepts. If a truly new concept emerges directly (rather than as part of the strategy process) then the entire strategy might develop in a different direction.
What kind of staff should make up the Concept R&D department? The answer is simple: people who are comfortable in dealing with concepts. This doesn't simply mean 'creative' people.
There are many creative people who are uneasy with concepts. There is an element of analysis in clarifying and defining concepts in order for them to become tangible. Equally, it is necessary to go beyond just defining existing concepts.
New concepts need to be created, designed and developed. This requires creative skill, but the need for design skill is even greater. A certain amount of trial and error might be necessary before the right people for the Concept R&D department are found.
Once recruited, this small core group can then interact with other groups, such as those responsible for strategy, marketing, new product development, R&D, etc.