You’ve heard it before. Every time you bring together the usual suspects, you hear the same ideas. How do you make progress or innovate when your input is always the same old, same old?

You don’t.

This year, THINK celebrates the extraordinary power of outside voices. When you take the time to listen up, suddenly the world is buzzing:

  • In a Harvard Business Review video, Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, coauthor of Innovation as Usual, reports on a company that spent two years trying to fix a quirk in a new adhesive product. In a last act of desperation, they posted a 33-slide PowerPoint on social media with the offer of 10,000 Euros to anyone who could suggest a workable solution. Within a few weeks, they had five contributions that enabled them to bring the product to market. Three of these five contributors already worked for the company. “Crowdsourcing isn’t only about reaching around the entire world,” Wedell-Wedellsborg says. “Very often, there may be someone very close to you who has the knowledge you need.”
  • A PeopleMetrics study found that the top differentiator between growth and nongrowth financial institutions was listening to and acting on individual customer feedback. PeopleMetrics EVP and THINK 14 presenter Kate Feather spoke up about the singular importance of listening: “Unless you have the habit of listening to members, understanding, and acting on that [feedback] individually and systemically, you can’t push innovation and strengthen the bond you have with your customers.”
  • Want a blueprint for exercising human-centered design principles at your organization? We thought so. IDEO – the design company behind OpenIDEO, THINK’s partner in this year’s THINK Prize 15 – offers a Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, which is full of ideas and activities to build perspective, foster empathy, refine ideas and create momentum.

What’s the big deal about listening? It is, after all, something we do naturally every day. Yet, finding ways to turn up the volume – not just serendipitously, but deliberately and consistently – is a critical first step toward smarter operations, better products or an improved customer experience. It’s the way to uncover your breakthrough and, in the process, build enthusiasm within your team or your membership.

In 2015, there are a million ways to listen in. They’re as complex as data analytics and as simple as reaching out to potential members for quick opinions. Between social media channels, member surveys and employee idea boards – along with any creative efforts you make to gather information — there’s no shortage of input. The challenge is to listen actively. Collect. Interpret. Follow up. Follow through.

Finally, the challenge is to create a process that makes listening a first step, mapping out all the steps that follow toward the execution of new ideas and a better organization. Listen. Act. Repeat.