“Does innovation also give you a soft-on?” When my boss Anne Skare Nielsen asked the question for the first time, spit squinted out through my compressed lips. I couldn’t help but to sputter with laughter. Because she was on to something. We’ll all soon get a soft-on just hearing the first syllable “iiiiinno…” Phew, then the sweat begins running down between lints of cotton in the armpits. Because then we all know that we need to fidget with post-its, come up with brand new ideas that will create value, which are then collected in a glossy report or on a poster on the wall with the company’s “Here’s Smith Roofing’s (insert your company name) innovation strategy.”
Yawn! Is it just my brain that during the last few minutes have lost a few otherwise fresh, new brain cells just by thinking that scenario through? Let’s drop the glittering innovation plans that never give us anything else but a soft-on.
10 steps to future proofed and meaningful innovation
- Listen louder: Learn to listen to the unsaid needs of your clients, co-workes, families, and friends. What is it they need that they are not saying?
- Visualise your clients: A new study shows that cooks make tastier food when they can see who they are making the food for. If the cooks in the experiment could see their clients the courses were estimated 10 percent tastier. So what will happen if you could see your clients? It’s definitely worth a try. Take pictures of your clients and put them up on the bulletin board, so you can see them all the time.
- Learn to predict the future: We can predict the future. We just have to start by excluding all the things that we’re not sure will happen. Because there is enough left. Start by looking and relate to what kind of trends in society that will change your business – and that you therefore need to stay one step ahead of today! Here is a guide to spotting the future >>
- Think in “shit-fit”: One of our strengths here in Denmark is incremental innovation – we build on top of existing knowledge. Even if you/your company haven’t invented a rocket that flies to Mars in 14 seconds, you can probably still call yourself innovative. That’s what we in Future Navigator call ‘shit-fit’. Shit that goes well with other shit. There is no reason for us to expect that we need to invent the revolutionary new. Instead think of how you can combine the solutions, products, and ways of doing things that you already have. An example of ‘shit-fit’ and incremental innovation is the trolley. People have travelled in many, many years and we have had suitcases for many, many years, but it wasn’t until 1970 someone thought about putting wheels on the heavy suitcases.. and voila, then you had the trolley that have made it much easier for us to travel. And I’m convinced that the Chinese inventer, He Liangcai, considers his scooter-suitcase as the new trolley and meaningful innovation.
- Go opposite: Look in the opposite direction of what everybody else does, because then you see things that no one else sees and can do things that no one else does. The author of ‘Flash Foresight’, Daniel Burrus, talks in his new book about moving in the opposite direction: One of my young friends opened up a completely new pediatric dentist practice. She had a modest client circle but her clients didn’t create the references that she hoped for. “This is a children’s practice, right?” I said. “Then let us start by approaching it through a child’s perspective. We went down on our knees and moved into the waiting room and looked around. “What do you see?” I asked my friend. She looked at me with surprise. “Not much of anything!” It was true. Everything in the room was at eye-level – adult eye-level. “What if we lowered the reception so we could make eye contact with your nice receptionist? And what about the hearing? When you enter the room, what do you hear?” We both listened. It sounded like there were evil people tormenting mice in the next room. We put on some beat-per second music to copy a calming heartbeat and installed soundproofing material on the walls. Then I asked my friend: “What about the smell?” We replaced the antiseptic smell (which to children equals panic) with a pleasant smell. Her practice thrived afterwards.
- Find out what is “better” for you: In the western world we have for many years lived in a world characterized by a “more, more mentality”. Everything has been about hiring more employees, more products in production, more meetings and being so super busy that stress has become a common disease. But now we find ourselves in a shift of paradigms in the world history where success no longer is measured in ‘more’ but instead is measured in ‘better’. Not in growth, but in the positive effect you have on others people’s lives and the world around you. We shouldn’t get more out of each other and our resources but something better. Without a change in our way of thinking we’ll just do as we are used to do things. So what is better for you? Focus your creative strengths on that.
- Ask yourself: Does what I do create value? An example of innovation that really creates value is the can opener. When the British businessman, Peter Durand, in 1810 invented the can for the Royal Marines he forgot to invent a tool to open the can with. So the poor, hungry soldiers had to try to open the canned food with help from bayonets, knives, and rifle shots. It wasn’t until 1858, after 48 years with impossible and dangerous ways to open cans, that the American Exra J. Warner invented the can opener. That is innovation that creates value!
- Seek out irritation: Innovative people seek irritation. Irritation is the universe’ way to send a message that you don’t want to hear or understand, because then you would have to change a whole lot of things. Irritation-training is important because we have a naturel preference to justify our behavior and defend status quo instead of looking reality in the eye. If your power is built on the earth being the center of the universe then it is for example much easier to shoot the guy who says that it is actually the sun than to update your entire world view (if you need some background knowledge you can Google “cognitive dissonance”). So what irritates you the most? Let’s assume – hypothetically – that those who/what annoys you are/is right and you are wrong. What is the underlying message or “call to change” (it is not always there is one. Some times people are just irritating)?
- What should you stop doing? If we could press ctrl-alt-del on the existing system and delete everything we ‘normally’ do, what would we not include again? In other words: What should you – and your company – stop doing, let go of, and throw away? Maybe find a buddy to do the exercise with and help each other to make it realistic. Give each other a ‘do or dare’ – the challenge must have a specific due date and you need to send a picture of the execution/result to your buddy.
- Pause and ask yourself: “If I SHOULDN’T do this and that, what would I do instead?” Make up as many “why not” and “what if” sentences as possible: “Why not make bus stops with fan heaters and hot chocolate in them?”, “what if the internet broke down?”, “what if brussels sprout tasted like chocolate?”, “what if the boss was a 5 year old kid?”, “what if we could live on distant planets?”, “what if…”, “when I press ctrl-alt-del on the all the existing, what would I include again?”
It is very thought-provoking that 86% of the first Fortune 500 companies in 1955 don’t exist today! There are many reasons for that but one of them is that the world around them has developed much faster than the companies could accommodate. Innovation is also about looking at the upcoming big and small waves of trends and developments, and reflect on what it means. To say “hi future, how nice of you to stop by.” Because the worst thing we can do is to sit on our bottom and say “that internet thing (… insert a development here) will pass tomorrow.” If we can work against our monkey brain’s tics and smokescreen when it’s stuck in “we’re used to-mentality”, that is so safe and nice, then we are off to a good, innovative start!
Innovation is a mindset more than it is the lone inventor, who sits in the basement and comes up with genius, brand new inventions. Innovation is not for the few, but for the many.
”WHEN IT CAN’T BE DONE, DO IT. IF YOU DON’T DO IT, IT DOESN’T EXIST” Paul Arden