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The Power Of The Constant In A Changing World

filed in Brand Strategy, Innovation

In a commercial world, we’re always trying to predict and keep pace with the future. A bit like a toddler failing to outrun his shadow. It’s a race none of us will ever quite know enough to win. Because we’re focused on the future, naturally we worry about change and disruption, often overlooking what’s constant.

Many innovation missteps are thought to have come about because of a failure to recognise what was coming. I’d argue that they were a result of a failing to look at what’s constant. What every product or service has in common is a customer. While our eyes are firmly fixed on the future we’re building—we often forget to see what’s unchanging in the people we serve. Even in a world of self-driving cars and drone delivered pizza what makes people tick will be the same.

We come unstuck when we ignore what we already know about the world, not by paying attention to what we don’t know.

Image by Mark Lehmkuhler.

Who Do Good Ideas Come From?

filed in Innovation, Success

Everyone knows a good idea is a shortcut to success, profits and growth. Bad ideas lose. Good ideas win. This is why we are obsessed as a culture about where good ideas come from and how to have more of them. As we go in pursuit of a breakthrough idea we turn our gaze outward (but often not very far). We try using new tools and tactics or make changes to our environment in the hope that this will get our creative juices flowing. And then we increasingly look for proof in the data that our idea will work.

What Do All Good Ideas Have In Common?

There’s only one thing that every single idea from a recipe to a rocket has in common—and that’s a creator. Someone with a particular set of attributes who cared enough about solving a problem or creating change to come up with a solution. Why do we devote so many resources to optimising the environment to allow us to have more winning ideas, instead of wondering how we can improve our chances by changing ourselves.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
—Leo Tolstoy

We covet groundbreaking ideas, and we celebrate the people who have them. We believe in superstars and visionaries, in the power of Eureka! moments and special circumstances that set great ideas and their creators apart. Thousands of column inches are devoted to the singular genius of entrepreneurs like Sara Blakely, Richard Branson, John Lasseter, Elon Musk, James Dyson, Anita Roddick and Steve Jobs. Those who see and act on what others miss – the entrepreneurial pioneers who recognise opportunity as a hunch long before the world proclaims it as revolutionary. The supposed exceptions—not the rule.

Dollar Shave Club, the startup that disrupted the men’s grooming industry by selling quality razors direct to consumers at a cheaper price point, didn’t pioneer the invention of the disposable razor, and they weren’t the first company to use an ecommerce platform to reach customers. The CEO Michael Dubin’s role was to make the unexpected connections between the industry’s existing business model and a customer experience that left a lot to be desired – to create a brand that people would trust and become loyal to. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invent online social networks. Anita Roddick wasn’t the first to create a skincare company. James Dyson didn’t patent the first vacuum cleaner. Arianna Huffington didn’t launch the first online news website. Someone else was there with the ideas first, but the people we celebrate and want to emulate had an inkling about how to breathe new life into those products by making them meaningful to those who would use them. It’s possible to become that kind of person intentionally.

Those successful entrepreneurs, creatives and innovators—people just like you—who have harnessed their curiosity, empathy and imagination, seeking out opportunities to invent, create and serve. Every day is filled with those opportunities either seized or missed, ours for the taking if only we can learn to listen for them. Every breakthrough idea starts not with knowing for sure but by understanding why it might be important to try.

My new book Hunch: Turn Your Everyday Insights Into The Next Big Thing invites you to learn from the successes of those who have gone before you. It gives you the tools to notice more and to understand how to recognise opportunities others miss and create something the world is waiting for. There are hundreds of books that can help you with the process of making ideas happen. This is the one you need before you get to the execution stage. It’s an invitation to pay attention to your hunches, reawaken skills you’ve neglected or forgotten, and develop new capabilities you need. It’s your guided practice to a new way of seeing the world and embracing your unique potential on the road to uncovering groundbreaking ideas. Intuition alone won’t tell you exactly where ‘X’ marks the spot, but it can give powerful clues as to where you might begin to dig. This is the book you need if you’re ready to begin finding them. You can preorder Hunch using the links below.

Preorder Hunch At These Retailers

Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Book Depository offers free international shipping.

Image by Ashley Rose.

What’s Missing?

filed in Brand Strategy, Innovation

The patisserie opened with great fanfare and then fell flat. The brand had an international reputation, was selling a half decent product in a good location and yet customers didn’t feel like they had a reason to come back. They couldn’t put their finger on it, but the cafe just had no soul.

It’s easy to get into the habit of working on our advantages. We often reassure ourselves by focusing on strengths or paying attention to the best performance metrics. This reticence to address our shortcomings can blind us to opportunities to do better.

On the journey to perfecting an unforgettable dish, the question talented chefs ask themselves most is; “What’s missing? Many of the groundbreaking ideas and innovations of our time from raw chocolate to bottled water, the iPod to the Tesla were born from understanding not just what was lacking in the product, but also what was missing in the life of the customer and how she might want to experience it differently.

We uncover breakthrough ideas when we address the questions that haven’t already been answered.

Image by Jaume Escofet.

The Characteristics Of Successful Ideas

filed in Brand Strategy, Innovation

In an era when we have self-driving cars and delivery drones it’s still possible to encounter:

Underwear with five uncomfortable care labels sewn into the seams.
A beautiful teapot that becomes too heavy to lift when it’s full.
Inconspicuous assembly instructions that confuse rather than clarify.
Sports shoes that give the wearer blisters until they’re ‘broken in’.
And breakfast cereals that are one-third sugar.

While we’re busy trying to create brilliant, breakthrough ideas that win, we often overlook the opportunity to make something that’s simply thoughtful instead. Thoughtful innovation requires us to do more than to meet spec. It demands that we empathise and anticipate. That we measure difference as well as data, intentionally marry functionality with delight and strive to go beyond the good enough.

Image by Bousure.

A Common Sense Approach To Customer Insights

filed in Brand Strategy, Innovation, Marketing

Joanne is a small business owner. She operates a catering van that travels to local industrial estates, serving workers who don’t have easy access to high street cafes and fast food restaurants closer to town. Joanne’s business lives and dies on what she knows about her customers. So she makes it her business to know a lot about them.

She knows that Darren leaves home without breakfast before his kids are up. There is no time to pack lunch because he has to be on the road before rush hour traffic hits. Joanne knows that most days Darren stops at the convenience store for a Red Bull which he drinks in his truck before beginning a day of sawing, sanding and heavy lifting. Unlike the office workers in the city who work from 9-5 and lunch at midday, Darren will be famished by 10–which is why her van makes its rounds before 11. She knows he needs something he can eat with one hand while standing in his workshop between jobs, and that he won’t be looking for sushi or a paleo salad bowl. Joanne knows that Darren will knock off early on Friday and head to the pub for a few beers with his mates. He will do the garden on Saturday and take his boys to footie on Sunday.

These insights are invaluable to Joanne’s business. They influence her hours of operation, the products she stocks and the customer experience she provides. And she didn’t need a data analyst or an algorithm to uncover them.

We can learn as much from spending time with our customers as we can by looking for clues among surveys, demographics and data sets. It turns out that understanding comes from looking beyond data points that can be easily measured or plotted on a graph. How much do you know about how your customers behave or what they think about, prioritise, value and believe in?

Image by Michelle Ress.

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