Written by Melinda Cooper

Jennifer Alsever presents a step-by-step guide to fostering business creativity in the October 2009 Fortune Small Business.  Her process includes suggestions and comments from authors, entrepreneurs and consultants:

Step 1: Look Behind You

Steve McKee, author of When Growth Stalls, sums this step up best when he says – “It’s like trying to catch a baseball….you’re in a better place if you know where the ball has been. Then study the needs of your customers. Where are their frustration points? Where is their productivity being hampered?”

(side note: Really? When does history not repeat itself? People are wearing LEGGINGS of all things again!)

Step 2: Lose The Routine

Robin Chase,  CEO and founder of Zipcar and GoLoco, says , “Time wasting in an excellent source of innovation… Make time to read widely, and cultivate a variety of friends and online groups who send you wacky articles.”

(side note: I long to be a master of this. Ha. Let me know if you want some wacky articles.)

Step 3: Use The Brains You Hired

Thomas Koulopoulos, author of “The Innovation Zone” says, “You need to give people the license to take risks and to fail often enough to realize that they will not be punished for doing the right thing even though the outcome might not be what they expected…Small failures encourage big success.”

(side note: Devil’s advocate: So… hire people to fail for you and then after they do trial and error… you use this information and come out victorious? Sounds good to me, just make sure to give credit where it is due.)

Step 4: Get Cozy with Customers

David Fields, managing director of Ascendant Consulting says “You can’t be too close to your customers… Your customers are your lifeblood. The heart of innovation is understanding what problems they have that you can solve.”

(side note: This seems obvious to me. And David should maybe talk to his HR department because… you can sometimes be too close to your customers.)

Step 5: Share The Load

Getting outside feedback doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Dig into your Rolodex and find a partner or vendor who might be interested in sharing time and/or money. Travis Hollman, a serial entrepreneur in Dallas, Texas encourages business leaders to find student interns who work for credits.  Why? Because they will tell you the truth when it comes to market research since “they don’t work for you, so they’re not afraid to tell you something is dumb.”

(side note: Unpaid interns will also tell you when something sucks. E-mail me. I’ll tell you.)

Step 6: Try to Fail Quickly

If you have a good idea, move on it rather than sit around on it. Sometimes moving from brainstorming to action can be tough. Set goals and benchmarks – time or money – for your idea so you know when to quit. And Kirk, the CEO of Path Forward International warns, pf getting trapped in “shiny-penny hell” where you become enamored of too many great ideas at once.

(side note: At least be optimistic about it and try to MAKE MONEY quickly rather than fail…)