Slashing the budget — but not the quality of the meeting — has become a way of life. But coming up with new ways to do it is still a struggle.

Almost from the beginning of each fiscal year, our collective fear that we won't “make the numbers” is all-consuming. This becomes particularly acute in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, especially if the annual meeting or other major conference or trade show is scheduled during that 90-day period. It's a make-or-break time, in which every nonessential expense is frozen in place until it's clear whether the company will be in the black and the event is a go.

This is where innovation enters the picture. There are as many definitions of innovation as the number of supposed experts in the field around the world; the idea is to create a new process resulting from exploration and experimentation. Innovation is not linear, and it's often messy, but when pursued consistently, it is a remarkably effective way to create value.

Idea 1:

Apply “Generative Constraints”

What can meetings professionals do to turn cost-cutting into an innovation opportunity? First, I suggest applying “generative constraints” to inspire creative solutions to vexing problems. For example, if your opening reception budget has been cut from $3,000 to $2,000, try conducting a brainstorming session to develop ideas that would allow you to hold a spectacular reception for only $1,000! By further reducing the available resources, you open the door to new ideas that you might not otherwise have considered.

Idea 2:

Core Investment Principles

Another step is to reduce all nonstrategic spending associated with your meetings, meaning anything that does not directly advance the underlying purpose of the event. We all want to believe that everything we do at our meetings has some kind of strategic purpose, no matter how peripheral it might be. But my advice is to look holistically at all of the meetings that you plan and establish a set of core investment principles that outline the strategic top-priority areas to which your organizations should allocate its resources without exception. Once those principles are in place, use them as a platform for reducing costs and encouraging innovation.

Take Google, for example. The company is well-known for innovation, but, contrary to popular belief, it is not innovative because it is a multibillion-dollar company. Google is a multibillion-dollar company because it innovates. While no one expects organizations to become huge enterprises like Google, the ethic of innovation that Google and other organizations embody is something that planners must learn and adapt to their own purposes. If we cannot embrace this way of thinking, we will continue to pay the real costs of failure.

Innovation@Google

In the webinar with this name, Naveen Viswanatha, lead sales engineer for Google, shares a glimpse into the company's culture and the ways the company develops its ideas and products. There are lots of takeaways for meeting managers who need to deliver creative meetings with smaller budgets. Visit www.youtube.com and search Innovation@Google.

Jeff De Cagna is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, Reston, Va. You can reach him at jeff@principledinnovation.com.