Innovative Model

The Process & Incubating an Idea

On the surface, BrightHouse appears to be made up of a bunch of rich intellects who are really lucky. Because their clients span the globe and have cash to burn, BrightHouse employees get some pleasant perks. The BrightHouse team has held brainstorming sessions on yachts, beaches and mountains and in world-class spas. Small wonder COO Anne Simons admits, "Some people have the idea that we just lounge around all day."

They don't, but part of innovation is thinking, and because thinking looks a lot like loafing, not many companies follow Reiman's lead. Who wants to pay employees who look like they're daydreaming about last week's Six Feet Under episode? Neither Reiman nor Simons fears that. "The people who enjoy being here enjoy being intellectually stimulated," says Simons.

Reiman's process of innovating involves four basic steps. Not that anything about BrightHouse is basic. The steps are complicated, and the process won't translate to all companies because a lot is dependent on having a leader who has the drive and whimsy to be creative. Alf Nucifora, a prominent marketing consultant, facilitates many of BrightHouse's brainstorming sessions, known as "ideations." "A hell of a lot of the success is due to Joey," he says. "He's a shot of adrenaline. He brings an edginess and a risk to the table, which I think is lacking in most corporations. I wish we could distill him and inject him into our veins."

"If you really want something great, something that's going to change the world, we have to move slower, not faster."

But since we can't, here are the four steps: 1) investigation, 2) incubation, 3) illumination and 4) illustration.

Most companies probably already do Steps 1 and 4. Investigation involves analyzing the project, learning everything possible about it. The last step, which often takes BrightHouse nearly three months, is putting the knowledge together into a dynamic package. But businesses often ignore incubation and illumination.

Incubating an Idea
For every BrightHouse project, Reiman builds in three to four weeks of incubation, "where all we do-literally-is think." In fact, he's written a book on the subject, Thinking for a Living (Longstreet Press), and he's working on another one, Business at the Speed of Molasses. "What happens when you ponder?" asks Reiman. "You have more insight, more discovery, more compassion, more wonder. And the results all lead to, of course, more profits."

Before you contend that in a 24/7 world, careful thought is overrated or impossible, consider this: "It takes a bamboo tree four years to take root; in the fifth year, it grows 80 feet. That is the power of the incubator," says Reiman. "So we say to our clients, 'Wait a second, guys. If you really want something great, something that's going to change the world, we have to move slower, not faster.' The power of slow is our secret weapon."

Reiman encourages paid sabbaticals. Employees cut out early on Fridays during the summer, and during the incubation period, "the five bastions of thinking" are highlighted. Says Reiman, "We have this notion that there are five places left in the world to really think: the john, the shower, the car, the gym and church or temple."

No, the BrightHouse staff doesn't shower together, but as Reiman says, "We try to find places where we can relax. One of the things a lot of us will do is go fishing. Fishing is the perfect state to think. When you're fishing, two things are happening in your brain: Your brain is on high alert in case a fish is around, but your brain is completely relaxed. So this climate that we create is one of high relaxation and high attentiveness. That combination, we have found, is the time when you have the 'Aha!' moment."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Innovative Model.

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