I’m obsessed with the newly opened Sphere in Las Vegas as an example of Innovation. As I write this, U2 are preparing for their second show there, and Vegas is buzzing about the new innovation they are performing in. That in of itself is quite something. Vegas is a city that is nor short of entertainment and visual spectacle, so for an innovation to capture the collective imagination in this way it has to be genuinely Wow. And that ‘Wow’ means there are opportunities for the innovation community to learn from it.
For those of you who might have missed it, The Sphere is an approximately 20,000 seat auditorium with razor sharp cutting edge multisensory capabilities that include a 16K resolution wraparound interior LED screen, speakers with beamforming and wave field synthesis technology, and 4D haptic physical effects built into the seats. The exterior of the 366 foot high building features 580,000 sq ft of LED displays which have transformed the already ostentatious Las Vegas skyline. Images including a giant eye, moon, earth, smiley face, Halloween pumpkin and various underwater scenes and geometric animations light up the sky, together with advertisements that are rumored to cost almost $500,000 per day. Together with giant drone displays and giant LED displays on adjacent casinos mean that Bladerunner has truly come to Vegas. But these descriptions simply don’t do it justice, you really, really have to see it.
Master of Attention – Leveraging Visual Science to the Full: The outside is a brilliant example of visual marketing that leverages just about every insight possible for grabbing attention. It’s scale is simply ‘Wow!’, and you can see it from the mountains surrounding Vegas, or from the plane as you come into land. The content it displays on its outside is brilliantly designed to capture attention. It has the fundamental visual cues of movement, color, luminescence, contrast and scale, but these are all turned up to 11, maybe even 12. This alone pretty much compels attention, even in a city whose skyline is already replete with all of these. When designing for visual attention, I often invoke the ‘Times Square analogy’. When trying to grab attention in a visually crowded context, signal to noise is your friend, and a simple, ‘less is more’ design can stand out against a background context of intense, complex visual noise. But the Sphere has instead leapt s-curves, and has instead leveraged new technology to be brighter, bigger, more colorful and create an order of magnitude more movement than its surroundings. It visually shouts above the surrounding visual noise, and has created genuine separation, at least for now.
But it also leverages many other elements that we know command attention. It uses faces, eyes, and natural cues that tap into our unconscious cognitive attentional architecture. The giant eye, giant pumpkin and giant smiley face tap these attentional mechanisms, but in a playful way. The orange and black of the pumpkin or the yellow and black of the smiley face tap into implicit biomimetic ‘danger’ clues, but in a way that resolves instantly to turn attention from avoid to approach. The giant jellyfish and whales floating above the strip tap into our attentional priority mechanisms for natural cues. And of course, it all fits the surprisingly obvious cognitive structure that creates ‘Wow!’. A giant smiley emoji floating above the Vegas skyline is initially surprising, but also pretty obvious once you realize it is the sphere!
And this is of course a dynamic display, that once it captures your attention, then advertises the upcoming U2 show or other paid advertising. As I mentioned before, that advertising does not come cheap, but it does come with pretty much guaranteed engagement. You really do need to see it for yourself if you can, but I’ve also captured some video here:
The Real Innovation Magic: The outside of The Sphere is stunning, but the inside goes even further, and provides a new and disruptive technology platform that opens the door for all sorts of creativity and innovation in entertainment and beyond. The potential to leverage the super-additive power of multi-sensory combinations to command attention and emotion is staggering.
The opening act was U2, and the show has received mostly positive but also mixed reviews. Everyone raves about the staggering visual effects, the sound quality, and the spectacle. But others do point out that the band itself gets somewhat lost, and/or is overshadowed by the new technology.
But this is just the beginning. The technology platform is truly disruptive innovation that will open the door for all sorts of innovation and creativity. It fundamentally challenges the ‘givens’ of what a concert is. The U2 show is still based on and marketed as the band being the ‘star’ of the show. But the Sphere is an unprecedented immersive multimedia experience that can and likely will change that completely, making the venue the star itself. The potential for great musicians, visual and multisensory artist to create unprecedented customer experience is enormous. Artists from Gaga to Muse, or their successors must be salivating at the potential to bring until now impossible visions to life, and deliver multi-sensory experience to audiences on a scale not previously imagined. Disruptive innovation often emerges at the interface of previous expertise, and the potential for hybrid sensory experiences that the Sphere offer are unprecedented. Imagine visuals created and inspired by the Webb telescope accompanied by an orchestra that sonically surrounds the audience in ways they’ve never experienced or perhaps imagined. And of course, new technology will challenge new creative’s to leverage it in ways we haven’t yet imagined. Cawsie Jijina, the engineer who designed the Sphere maybe says it best:
“You have the best audio there possibly can be today. You have the best visual there can possible be today. Now you just have to wait and let some artist meet some batshit crazy engineer and techie and create something totally new.”
This technology platform will stimulate emergent blends of creative innovation that will challenge our expectations of what a show is. It will likely require both creative’s and audiences to give up on some pre-conceptions. But I love to see a new technology emerge in front of my eyes. We ain’t seen nothing yet.
Image credits: Pete Foley
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I recently read an article in ZDnet by Sherin Shibu discussing disruptive innovation, primarily through the lens of Clay Christensen’s work at the Harvard Business School. The article itself is very sound, and yet I found myself disagreeing with it on a number of points. In this blog, I want to interleave what Shibu says (presented in standard font) with my own commentary (inserted in italics) so that readers can develop their own point of view from the interaction.
What is disruptive innovation?
Disruptive innovation theory is a cautionary concept for large, established companies: There’s danger in becoming too good at what you do best. Delivering to the mainstream market is good and all, but a disruptor could target a market underserved by your current product with a new business model.
For me, disruptive innovation has a much bigger footprint because it also underlies virtually all venture capital investment. Its fundamental promise is to release an enormous amount of trapped value by reengineering an established system or process. The reason it is a cautionary concept for large established companies is that they are the custodians of the legacy systems and processes that are trapping the value. Yes, they can reduce the overhead by optimizing what they have, but no, they cannot compete with a categorically better way of doing things.
Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen developed the concept of disruptive innovation in the 1990s with his groundbreaking book The Innovator’s Dilemma, and the theory became wildly popular in the decades to follow. But in some respects it has become a victim of its own success: “Despite broad dissemination, the theory’s core concepts have been widely misunderstood and its basic tenets frequently misapplied,” notes The Harvard Business Review.
Disruptive innovation is a process by which entrepreneurs break into a low-end or new market and create business models that are different from existing ones in those markets. Disruption has occurred when their business model becomes mainstream.
So, a new company targets an overlooked customer base — and manages to deliver a better product at a lower price point. At first, the incumbents don’t take the threat seriously, which allows the potential disruptors to gain a foothold. Then the disruptors target the incumbents’ mainstream customers. If the potential disruptors create something that the mainstream adopts in volume, they have successfully disrupted the market.
I think this reading of the model overemphasizes the need to attack the low end of the market. Yes, that is a proven path, but it is not the only one. The iPhone disrupted from the high end, for example, as has Tesla.
What is disruptive innovation not?
Defining disruptive innovation isn’t easy and not everyone is going to agree on every example. Classic disruptive innovation should not simply describe just any situation of upheaval. If a new company shakes things up a bit for incumbent competitors, that scene is not necessarily one of disruptive innovation — that could simply be a breakthrough. In order for this theory to have power and be used as an analytical and predictive model, it needs to be precisely defined.
My definition of disruptive innovation is one that overthrows and is incompatible with the existing business model or operating model of an industry. In the case of the iPhone, it was Apple’s ability to go over the top of the carrier to provide products and services directly to the consumer. In the case of Tesla, it is its ability to bypass the dealership model not only in sales but in services as well.
Christensen, for example, argued that Uber is not a disruptive innovator according to his definition. It fails to meet two requirements, in that it did not start in a low-end or new market. Instead, it built a name for itself in a mainstream market and then started drawing unserved customers with less expensive solutions. And being less expensive or creating an app to hail rides sustains the existing model rather than disrupts.
This is just wrong and shows the limitations of the “start at the low end” concept. Uber reengineered both the operating model and the business model of on-demand car transportation, allowing consumers to call a taxi to themselves, and allowing Uber to build a fleet of cars and drivers at no capital expense.
Not everyone thinks that’s the case and other perspectives can be found that argue Uber actually is a disruptive innovator. From this perspective, Uber started with a low-market foothold by offering on-demand black car services. It was only when the startup introduced UberX, a low-end market offering, that it was able to move into the mainstream.
What counts as disruption is up for debate, especially as Christensen’s theory is applied to shifting contexts.
In the case of Uber, focusing on the low end simply misses the point.
Why is it important to define disruptive innovation?
Disruption isn’t a fixed point; it’s the evolution of a product or service from the fringes of customers to the mainstream. It’s important to define it this way because then it becomes more about the experimental nature of the process than about the output. See, disruptive innovations don’t always succeed and not every successful company is a disruptor. The process is about building new business models previously unseen in the target industry and appealing to a more niche customer base at first.
In my view, disruptive innovation is a function of a breakthrough technology intersecting with a pool of trapped value, enabling the reengineering of a system or process that eliminates one or more whole categories of spend in its value chain. It is a categorical innovation as opposed to a product or marketing innovation.
Is disruptive innovation the primary way innovation operates?
No, it is not the primary factor of innovation. According to HBR, “disruption theory does not, and never will, explain everything about innovation specifically or business success generally.” It does, however, help predict which businesses will succeed and it provides a solid foundation for further research – it’s captured academic attention for 27 years.
I agree with the point that disruptive innovation is not the primary type. Most innovation is sustaining, meaning that it improves an existing system rather than overthrowing it—evolution, not revolution. What I disagree with wholeheartedly, on the other hand, is the notion that the theory helps predict which businesses will succeed. Historically, the advantage has gone to start-ups because they are unconflicted in their commitment to the new way. Established enterprises, however, have learned that they can neutralize start-ups if they are willing to be fast followers. Microsoft’s Azure is a superb example of a company that has done this. Disney’s response to Netflix is another good example, and it appears as if General Motors is on a comparable path toward neutralizing Tesla.
What is an example of disruptive innovation?
Netflix was around since 1997, and at first, it didn’t appeal to Blockbuster’s core clientele. Renting movies usually happened in person, and Netflix was all online. Plus, Netflix took a few days to deliver movies because selections came through the mail. Blockbuster could easily ignore Netflix because it didn’t have the brick-and-mortar infrastructure needed to dominate the market at that time.
This glosses over what was the initial disruptive innovation that Netflix provided with its home delivery model based on DVDs. The key differentiator at the beginning was designing out late fees.
Over time though, as streaming technology developed, Blockbuster’s target clients were drawn toward Netflix. The same impulsiveness that made renting a movie right away more desirable than getting a movie a few days later translated into wanting to watch movies with a click of a mouse instead of going to a physical location to rent a DVD. Disruptive innovation technology, in this case, streaming, goes hand in hand with implementing innovation.
There is another story playing out in Netflix’s transition from DVD shipping to streaming. It required the company to disrupt itself. This is an extraordinary ask, as most successful disruptive innovations attack someone else’s profit pool, not one’s own. Reed Hastings deserves enormous credit for leading the company through this change, and I would encourage the academy to focus its research lens on how in the world he was able to do so when so many CEOs have fallen short.
Are there any disruptive innovation technologies to keep an eye on?
Online learning is a technology to watch because it’s reaching a population that in-person learning can’t reach at a lower price point.
The main technologies to keep an eye on are the ones that tackle an underserved market and have the potential to expand their offerings to appeal to the mainstream.
Something like autonomous vehicles, for example, can seem innovative, but they aren’t disruptive according to the theory because they’ll be quickly absorbed into existing industries. The incumbent advantage is strong.
The important thing to remember is that innovation does not always lead to disruption.
I strongly support the idea that online education delivery has the power to disrupt the education market—again, a breakthrough technology intersecting with a boatload of trapped value. I think the point about autonomous vehicles is interesting as well because I agree they will be absorbed into the existing industries. But while they may not disrupt the automotive industry, I do think they can reengineer transportation and logistics.
Overall, I support Shibu’s main thesis which is that we have come to take disruptive innovation for granted and have become careless with how we apply the term. And while we part ways on how best to apply it, I still endorse Clay’s breakthrough insights in The Innovator’s Dilemma, which had a huge impact on a whole generation of companies in Silicon Valley.
In 2019 we experienced the shock and the pain that resulted from the globally disruptive global Covid 19 pandemic. To both survive and thrive in the new decade of uncertainty, many people still need help and guidance to connect to, understand and manage their anxieties, fears, inertia, and confusion about the future to effectively ride the waves of disruptive change. Yet, according to Johann Hari, in his best-selling book – Stolen Focus, all over the world, our focus and attention have been stolen, and our ability to pay attention is collapsing, and we need to be intentional in reclaiming it.
He describes the wide range of consequences this has on our lives, which are further impacted by pervasive and addicting technology we are being forced to use in our virtual world, exasperated by the pandemic and the need to work virtually, from home. He reveals how our dwindling attention spans predate the internet, and how its decline is accelerating at an alarming rate.
He suggests that if we want to get back our ability to focus, stop multitasking and practice paying attention. Also, if we want to kickstart change and help people feel confident in their readiness, competence, and capacity to change and innovate in a world of unknowns, it all starts with improving our ability to pay deep attention to what is really going on.
Yet, in the thesaurus there are 286 synonyms, antonyms, and words related to paying attention, such as: listen, and giving heed, so what might be the key first steps to take in reclaiming your focus and attention?
Power of focus and attention
Energy flows where attention goes
Placing our focus and attention activates our energy, and our energy flows where our attention goes.
So, if you have been feeling tired and lethargic, or overwhelmed and burned out, then take a moment to consider how you might score yourself on an attentive-distractive continuum and consider how similar, or different you are to US college students who can now focus on one task for only 65 seconds, and where office workers on average manage only three minutes?
Involves getting clear upfront about what you want to achieve, by setting an intention to achieve a specific outcome or result in the future that is important to you. In a world of unknowns, paying deep attention and being intentional are the key foundations for recovery, rebalance, and transformation.
Limiting ways of seeing, being, and acting in the world
Many people are still experiencing unconscious intrinsic, or reactive responses to their pandemic-induced work situations and are suffering from stress overload, overwhelm, and burnout.
This is because our autonomic nervous systems, which control our cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive functions, and responses to stress, operate outside of our conscious control in two different and co-dependent and often competing systems.
Parasympathetic fight or flight system
Put very simply, our sympathetic nervous systems get overloaded by heightened stress levels, which ignite our protective fight or flight system, which normally allows our bodies to function under stress and danger, and, as a result, impacts significantly on our levels of tiredness, exhaustion, and burnt-out emotional, mental and physical states. This exasperates our inherent, unconscious needs to self-preserve (gut), feelings of isolation and loneliness (heat), and having the limited presence of mind (head) and reverts many of us into survival mode, and shift out of alignment, where we become physiologically incoherent (out of balance).
When operating in survival mode, we are unable (like the US College students) to take the sacred pauses we need to make the space to attend and observe, through retreat, and reflection.
We are no longer able to access our inner knowing, play in the space of possibility, create a normalized state of equilibrium and calm, and be coherent and congruent in our daily lives.
Our overall capacity to set clear goals, make smart decisions, creatively solve problems, courageously take the right actions, harness our intuition, compassionately cultivate understanding and perception, develop good relationships, learn and develop, and finally, our health and well-being, are significantly reduced.
Initiate reclaiming focus and attention
Because we don’t know if companies will ever return to their pre-pandemic-like worlds, and become future-fit, people need to be reskilled in how to focus, how to observe, how to deeply focus and attend, and how to be intentional.
Developing daily habits to be focused and productive
Being intentional about breathing
To help balance and initiate harmonizing our autonomic nervous systems, develop physiological coherence, to respond optimally to the world, starts with developing focus and attention on your breath.
Doing this helps your neurology to relax, reduce stress and anxiety, increase calmness, and reconnect to the self.
Sounds simple, yet in my global coaching practice, clients would often turn up feeling overwhelmed and incoherent, so we would begin the session with a “box breathing” exercise. This involves breathing while you slowly count to four for a total of four times – four counts of breathing in, four counts of holding your breath, four counts of exhaling, and four more counts of holding after your exhale. We could both be grounded, and coherent, to partner and connect in high-impact and productive sessions.
Being intentional in stepping away from your screens
According to one 2019 survey of 1,057 U.S. office workers, 87 percent of professionals spend most of their workday staring at screens: an average of seven hours a day. Closing your laptop and taking a quick walk outside, in nature allows your brain to recharge for your next task, and enables your autonomic nervous system to take a well-deserved break and calm down.
Sounds simple, yet in my global coaching practice, clients found this very difficult to do, this might involve no TV screens in bedrooms, leaving phones outside bedrooms, turning phones off at 8.00 pm, buying an alarm clock, setting and sticking to a dedicated start and finish work times, taking regular lunch breaks outside in nature and coffee breaks with friends. Be playful and allow your mind to enjoy wandering into wondering.
Working in focused intervals
A recent article in Inc stated that – “In addition to the seven or eight hours of adequate sleep that so many entrepreneurs and CEOs neglect, taking smart breaks during your workday, and having longer periods of downtime are keys to being more productive”.
Sounds simple, again in my global coaching practice I had to negotiate with clients to be intentionally disciplined and methodical in planning their days, weeks, and months. This involved scheduling time to initiate or sustain a mindfulness or meditation practice, engage in a regular exercise program, go shopping to buy and eat healthy foods (eliminating desk-side snacks), being clear on key deliverables and breaking down key tasks into bite-size bits, and saying no to meetings that don’t contribute towards achieving these.
When we change the way we attend, a different world can come forth, for ourselves, others we are interacting with, and the environment we are operating within. When we know how to really, truly, and deeply attend, and observe, we can go to our place of deeper knowing, rethink and then act swiftly and inflow to effect the transformational breakthroughs that change the world as we know it.
Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™
Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, which can be customized as a bespoke corporate learning program.
Image Credit: Pixabay
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We probably all agree that the conservation of our natural world is important. Sharing the planet with other species is not only ethically and emotionally the right thing to do to, but it’s also enlightened self-interest. A healthy ecosystem helps equilibrate and stabilize our climate, while the potential of the largely untapped biochemical reservoir of the natural world has enormous potential for pharmaceuticals, medicine and hence long-term human survival.
Today I’m going to propose yet another reason why conservation is in our best interest. And not just the preservation of individual species, but also the maintenance of the complex, interactive ecosystems in which individual species exist.
Biomimicry: Nature is not only a resource for pharmaceuticals, but also an almost infinite resource for innovation that transcends virtually every field we can, or will imagine. This is not a new idea. Biomimicry, the concept of mimicking natures’ solutions to a broad range of problems, was first coined by Janine Benyus in 1997. But humans have intuitively looked to nature to help solve problems throughout history. Silk production in ancient bio-technology that co-opts the silk worm, while much of early human habitations were based on caves, a natural phenomenon. More recently, Velcro, wind turbines, and elements of bullet train design have all been attributed to innovation inspired by nature.
And Biomimicry, together with related areas such as biomechanics and bio-utilization taps into the fundamental core of what the front end of innovation is all about. Dig deep into virtually any innovation, and we’ll find it has been stolen from another source. For example, early computers reapplied punch cards from tapestry looms. The Beatles stole and blended liberally from the blues, skiffle, music hall, reggae and numerous other sources. ‘Uberization’ has created a multitude of new business from AirBNB to nanny, housecleaning or food prep services. Medical suturing was directly ‘stolen’ from embroidery, the Dyson vacuum from a sawmill, oral care calcium deposition technology was reapplied from laundry detergents, etc., etc..
Picasso – Great Artists Steal! This is also the creative process espoused by Pablo Picasso when he said ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal’. He ‘stole’ elements of African sculpture and blended them with ideas from contemporaries such as Cézanne to create analytical cubism. In so doing he combined existing knowledge in new ways that created a revolutionary and emergent form of art – one that asked the viewer to engage with a painting in a whole new way. Innovation incarnate!
Ecosystems as an Innovation Resource: The biological world is the biggest potential source of potential innovative ideas we have at our disposal anywhere. Hence it is an intuitive place to go looking for ideas to solve our biggest innovation challenges. But despite many people trying to leverage this potential goldmine, including myself, it’s never really achieved its full potential. For sure, there are a few great examples, such as Velcro, bullet train flow dynamics or sharkskin surfaces. But given how long we’ve been playing in this sandbox, there are far too few successes. And of those, far too many are based on hindsight, as opposed to using nature to solve a specific challenge. Just look at virtually any article on biomimicry, and the same few success stories show up year after year.
The Resource/Source Paradox. One issue that helps explain this is that the natural world is an almost infinite repository of information. That potential creates a challenging signal to noise’ search problem. The result is enormous potential, but coupled with almost inevitably high failure rates, as we struggle to find the most useful insights
Innovation is More than Ideation: Another challenge is that innovation is not just about ideas or invention; it’s about turning those ideas into practice. In the case of biomimicry, that is particularly hard, as the technical challenge of converting natural technology into viable commercial technologies is hampered because nature works on fundamentally different design principles, and uses very different materials to us. Evolution builds at a nano scale, is highly context dependent, and is result rather than theory led. Materials are usually organic; often water based, and are grown rather than manufactured. Very different to most conventional human engineering.
Tipping Point: But the good news is that materials science, technology, 3D printing and computational and data processing power, together with nascent AI are evolving at such a fast rate that I’m optimistic that we will soon reach a tipping point that will make search and translation of natural innovations considerably easier than today. Self-learning systems should be able to more easily replicate natural information processing, and 3D printing and nano structures should be able to better mimic the physical constructs of natural systems. AI, or at least massively increased computing power should make it easier for us to both ask the right questions and search large, complex databases.
Conservation as an Innovation Superpower: And that brings me back to conservation as an innovation superpower. If we don’t protect our natural environment, we’ll have a lot less to search, and a lot less to mimic. And that applies to ecosystems as well as individual species. Take the animal or plant out of its natural environment, and it becomes far more difficult to untangle how or why it has evolved in a certain way.
Evolution is the ultimate exploiter of serendipity. It does not have to understand why something works, it simply runs experiments until it stumbles on solutions that do, and natural selection picks the winner(s). That leads to some surprisingly sophisticated innovation. For example, we are only just starting to understand the quantum effects used in avian navigation and photosynthesis. Migratory birds don’t have deep knowledge of quantum mechanics; the beauty of evolution is that they don’t need to. The benefit to us is that we can potentially tap into sophisticated innovation at the leading edge of our theoretical knowledge, provided we know how to define problems, where to look and have sufficient knowledge to decipher it and reduce it to practice. The bad news is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Evolution tapped into quantum mechanics millennia before we knew what it was, so who knows what other innovations lie waiting to be discovered as our knowledge catches up with the nature – the ultimate experimenter.
Ecosystems Matter: But a species without the context of its ecosystem is at best half the story. Nature has solved flight, deep-water exploration, carbon sequestration, renewable energy, high and low temperature resilience and so many more challenges. And it has also done so with 100% utilization and recycling on a systems basis. But most of the underlying innovations solve very specific problems, and so require deep understanding of context.
The Zebra Conundrum: Take the zebra as an example. I was recently watching a David Attenborough documentary about zebras. As a tasty prey animal surrounded by highly efficient predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas, the zebra is an evolutionary puzzle. Why has it evolved a high contrast coat that grabs attention and makes it visible from miles away? High contrast is a fundamental visual cue that means even if a predator is not particularly hungry; it is pretty much compelled to take notice of the hapless zebra. But despite this, the zebra has done pretty well, and the planes of Africa are scattered with this very successful animal. The explanation for this has understandably been the topic of much conjecture and research, and to this day remains somewhat controversial. But more and more, the explanation is narrowing onto a surprisingly obvious culprit; the tsetse fly. When we think of the dangers to a large mammal, we automatically think of large predators. But while zebras undoubtedly prefer to avoid being eaten by lions, diseases associated with tsetse fly bites kill more of them. That means that avoiding tsetse flies likely creates stronger evolutionary pressure than avoiding lions, and that is proving to be a promising explanation for the zebras coat. Far less flies land on or bite animals with stripes. Exactly why that is remains debatable, and theories range from disrupting the flies vision when landing, to creating mini weather fronts due to differential heating or cooling from the stripes. But whatever the mechanism ultimately turns out to be, stripes stop flies. It appears that the obvious big predators were not the answer after all.
Context Matters: But without deep understanding of the context in which the zebra evolved, this would have been very difficult to unravel. Even if we’d conserved zebras in zoos, finding the tsetse fly connection without the context of the complex African savannah would be quite challenging. It’s all too easy to enthusiastically chase an obvious cause of a problem, and so miss the real one, and our confirmation bias routinely amplifies this.
We often talk about protecting species, but if, as our technology evolves to more effectively ‘steal’ ideas from natural systems, from an innovation perspective alone, preserving context, in the form of complex ecosystems may likely turn out to be at least as important as preserving individual species. We don’t know what we don’t know, and often the surprisingly obvious and critical answer to a puzzle can only be determined by exploring a puzzle in its natural environment.
Enlightened Self-Interest. Could we use an analogy to the zebra to help control malaria? Could we steal avian navigation for gps? I have no idea, but I believe this makes pursuing conservation enlightened self-interest of the highest order. We want to save the environment for all sorts of reasons, but one of the most interesting is that one-day, some part of it could save us.
Image credit: Pixabay
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Recently I had the opportunity to interview Mauro Porcini, author of the new book The Human Side of Innovation: The Power of People in Love with People.
Mauro Porcini is PepsiCo’s first ever Chief Design Officer. He joined the food & beverage corporation in 2012 and in said role he is infusing design thinking into PepsiCo’s culture and is leading a new approach to innovation by design that impacts the company’s product platforms and brands, which include Pepsi, Lay’s, Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Sodastream, Doritos, Lifewtr, Bubly, Aquafina, Cheetos, Quaker, 7Up, Mirinda, amongst many others. His focus extends from physical to virtual expressions of the brands, including product, packaging, events, advertising, fashion and art collaborations, retail activation, architecture, and digital media.
The interview dives into multiple aspects of innovation and design, including risk management, incremental versus disruptive innovation, the importance of language, meaning, and more.
Without further ado, here is the video recording:
Thanks to you Mauro for sharing your insights with our global human-centered change and innovation community!
To learn more about Mauro’s views on the importance of our humanity to design and innovation, grab yourself a copy of his new book The Human Side of Innovation: The Power of People in Love with People.
If you are more of a reader, then WITH FAIR WARNING, below you will find the questions I asked Mauro and a RAW TRANSCRIPT pulled directly out of YouTube without punctuation, etc. for the brave of heart.
I’m sorry, but it’s the best I can do right now. Here is the RAW, UNPUNCTUATED TRANSCRIPT of our interview:
1. Why is there no innovation without risk?
First of all thanks for having me it’s a pleasure to be here with you today why there is no innovation with our risk because the moment you change the status quo the moment you take anything it could be a product a brand
And experience a service anything and you modify uh its nature you modify that thing to take you to another status by definition you don’t know exactly uh what is going to happen you cannot control all the variables even just the fact that by modifying uh the solution people will react to it in a variety of different ways there is a wonderful um author and philosopher from Italy that inspired me since I was a child his name
Is pirandel and he wrote a book that in Italian was called Uno nesuno centonida I do remember exactly how they translated the title in English is available in many different languages but literally it means one nobody one hundred thousand and it talks about how we are one person but then eventually we are seen by the people surrounding Us in so many
Different ways and so we are 100 000 different people for all the people looking at us and interacting with us and seeing something different in us and then it goes on saying well because of this you know if you’re not yourself anymore and you are all those hundreds of thousands of interpretation uh you become nobody now we don’t need to think about this third iteration and this idea of nobody but that inspired me since I was very young because this is true for
Us as people but this is true also for anything we do as designers innovators entrepreneurs brand leaders we create something but we have no idea how that something is going to be interpreted by the people out there how they’re gonna use it they could spin it in One Direction in the other direction and so by definition when we create something we need to try to understand as much as possible the people in front of us their needs their wants their dreams and then
We need to really Buffet we need to do a proposal Ernesto juice Monday the founder of the lighting company are telling me that is Iconic you know premium luxury lighting firm used to say I don’t create solutions for people I create proposals and we’ll see how they will go obviously you know I try to manage the risk of The Proposal I try to control all the variables but we need to understand that we are Innovative and we’re really innovating we are need to
Be ready to take risk and we need to manage the risk with all the tools that we can with data we research with our knowledge but at the end of the day we need to be ready to take the risk and we also need to be ready therefore to manage the risk I used to work in 3M and the famous iconic CEO of 3M for many many years William McKnight used to say that once again there is not Innovation with our risk he was saying essentially the same thing and therefore we need to
Manage risk in the culture of the common we need to be okay with missteps with mistakes with failures or as I like to call them with experiments we need to be ready to embed the idea of failure slash experiment in our financial algorithms and we need to make sure that if somebody make an experiment that doesn’t go in the right direction by the way an experiment that by definition is all about testing and ideas so in any direction it goes is probably the right
Direction but you understand what I’m talking about when somebody makes an experiment proceed eventually by people as a failure or a mistake we don’t crucify the person we actually celebrate eventually the learning coming out of the misstep and we need to put in place also and ecosystem our processes and tools to extract as much learning out of that misstep and share the learn with the rest of the organization
Yeah I think I think it’s very important that that last Point especially that you just made around learning is the the key thing that you’re trying to achieve with any experiment and you can learn uh from success and failure and you know most of the time we we focus on trying to eliminate risk but I think you’re right that it’s key to not only manage it but manage the acceptance of the risk so so building upon that
2. You say innovation should start from our personal lives, but we also frequently say in design thinking that ‘you are not the customer’. How do you reconcile the two?
I love this question and nobody asked me this question yet I love it for a reason in the American culture of design that is the cultural design that essentially took to fame the idea of this I think you know and celebrated the idea of the same thinking I think there is somehow
And misunderstanding about what design thinking really is because we’ve been celebrating so much the processes the tools the ways of working uh that we think that is enough to bring in a consultant do a workshop on this and thinking all of a sudden now everybody knows the methodology we can do design think we can solve the problems of the world with that we think that we can bring in a design leader in these organizations and somehow
Introduce the idea of the same thinking and once again we’ll solve everything and the reality is that design thinking is not just a tool it’s not just about the tool eventually if you want to identify the same thinking as a methodology it’s not just about that there is the design thinker behind that and so there is all this conversations about the fact that you need to somehow detach yourself from uh the product the brand experience you
Need to focus everything on your end user or your customer or your consumer on the people you serve I like to call them people human beings and and so a lot of people think that you need to remove the sensitivity of the design The Poetry of the design the ability of the designer to understand those insights to observe people and translate that into poetry
Translate that into something that is unique that is different you know you can observe a reality in a neutral way as much as you want but at the end of the day if you put 20 people observing the same reality in the same way these 20 people we create solutions that are 20 times different on the base of their sensitivity and this is great we need to say that we need to preserve that is so important to understand that the touch of the design
Interpretation of the designer you know how the designer translates something that is objective that is neutral that is read about understanding the people you have in front of you but then add color nuances poetry as I called it earlier to make it magic to make it unique and this is the reason why you cannot replace designers with artificial intelligence at least until artificial intelligence
Will be able to replace human beings but then you know replacing designers or innovators will be the last of the problems or Humanity because artificial intelligence will think that you don’t need Humanity at all because we are totally in efficient in this plan I think we are destroying you know our society and our planet but before we get there hopefully we will never get there this sensitivity of the person the human being is something
We want to save and we need to stop talking about design thinking and Innovation processes as processes that need to be just objective and neutral without realizing the importance of having human beings with their emotions and their interpretations in these processes this is so clear when you are in a startup when you are a star designer to design a chair or a piece of light they make the difference as the
Entrepreneur make the difference in a subtop and then we work in corporations we work a scale and we forget the importance of the human being with a unique approach and sensitivity that can transform a cold data an observation that is available to anybody out there in Magic The Magic that make your company grow the magic that add shoulder value to your stock the magic the set you apart from competition yeah very very great points I think that
Too often people get lost in the idea of design thinking as a process when it’s more about a mindset and like you said the magic that that comes from identifying that key human insight and then doing something interesting with it
3. Why is incremental innovation no longer enough?
Incremental Innovation is safer and is a stable way to keep your company going to keep it up to speed and to progress towards something bigger and
Better so we need that is not enough because we live in a world that is continuously disrupted by new things in the world of business that means that we have so many new companies new brands new products coming in in their business reality competing with our products and brands in our life it means that there are so many things changing all the time and we live in total uncertainty and therefore
The ability to change and to flex and eventually to these wraps is part of this new ecosystem we live in is becoming many situations for you know many people uh in many companies even a condition for survival you know if you’re a person you lose your job or you’re attacked by a virus or something happen imagine you’re like you need to be able to disrupt and and and and this is creating so much anxiety in this Society is so much an
Exciting in companies as well but let’s go back to you know the context of business in companies we live in a world where today anybody can come up with an idea get easy access to funding through their proliferation of investment funds and all platforms like kickstarter.com where you can crowdfund your idea the Custom Manufacturing is going down driven by globalization and new technologies you can go straight to the people you serve what I like to call
People and other person called consumers through the e-commerce platforms to sell them stuff and through social media to promote your ideas and products in all these areas the companies of the past were building their huge barriers to entry middle scale of production distribution and communication it was so difficult to go compete with a big brand with a big company for the man and the woman on the street today they can and so the big and the small are left with
Just one solution they need to focus on the needs and wants of people and create something extraordinary for them the way we are trying to do that at PepsiCo is to think of a future uh where you know understand what is the future understand the societal diffusion understand the freedom marriage category of the future and understand what kind of Road PepsiCo could play in in the future and then understand what kind of product portfolio we need
To have to be ready to the Future so already that thinking is somehow disruptive or generates idea that are disruptive then you need to figure out how to use them this kind of ideas inform our Innovation strategy in turn developing things in-house it informs our partnership and you venture strategy it informs our acquisition strategy so you need to find ways to be disruptive in a strategic way
To be ready to a war that is Shifting and changing in the speed of light and the normal cycle of innovation based on incremental linear innovation don’t work as well as they used to work because of the speed of change it doesn’t mean you need to develop everything from within it means that you need to develop an innovation strategy that then can find different kind of outputs you can do everything by
Yourself you can do it with Partners out there or you can eventually make Acquisitions as well if you are a company I can afford it and this is by the way interesting because in the startup kind of world we live in the acquisition strategy is what many of these are Tabs are looking for so it’s a health ecosystem where you have entrepreneurs eventually build up new things new ideas and you have corporations at a certain point are
Alive and work with them so is is a very interesting new scenario but both the beginners model need to understand how to combine incremental Innovation with more disruptive innovation and thinking definitely definitely and that that’s uh that’s a very important point that without companies seeking to acquire startups then fewer startups would it would exist because they wouldn’t see that as an exit um very cool so uh let’s go back to
Something that you spoke about there just recently there which is …
4. What is the harm in calling people consumers?
Look I studied design in school we would never call the people we designed for consumers it would be so weird and we’re calling them eventually users most of the time people human being we were talking already back then 30 years ago about human centricity but not as a nobody thing it was just the way we were doing things and so if you
Call People’s consumers you’re gonna face that you’re gonna focus on the idea of selling them stuff obviously I mean you look at them as entity buying your product and you want to make money on by the way on top of it you’re gonna categorize people and reduce people to the area of consuming but you know what me you my wife my daughter my friends we do so much more in life than just consuming you know we do so many more things and I
Don’t want companies and Brands to look at me as a consuming being I want to have companies and Brands looking at me as a human being for who I am if you call them users at least you’re gonna focus on the use of the product you’re offering them and so you’re gonna try to satisfy the needs that they have and create products that are functionally relevant and desirable but if you look at them as people as
Human beings you’re gonna go above and beyond you’re going to think about them holistically you’re gonna think about them as people you care about people you love you know the subtitle of the book is people in love with people and when you love somebody could be your kids your wife your husband your significant other your parents and your friends what do you do well you try to do more you try to really make these people happy to do
Magic and expect that you want to make sure that you are serving them at 360 degrees and this is you know the mindset and the culture you build in your company if you stop calling them consumers or even users I used to have to call them for who they are people human beings it changed completely words are powerful and and a word can help you shaping the culture of an organization call them people and you will have armies of other people in love with
People trying to create something extraordinary for them is the product is the brand is the service you’re not going to be happy just with something that is good enough because it’s profitable and people are buying it you’re gonna try always to create something that is extraordinary because you want first of all to make people happy now this was a luxury in the past eventually for companies today is a need and is a must because of the
Competitive landscape we live in with barriers to entry crumbling down under the Winds of globalization new technologies and digital media and therefore the need of this company is already creating something extraordinary in all the different dimensions because if you have one of few areas or weakness that in the past you could protect your barriers to entry today are exactly the entry point for your competitors to come and erode your market share your mind
Share your love share with your with the people you serve well I think I think those are all uh very important points that you have to bring it away from the ACT to consumption and back to the the whole person if you really want to connect with the people that you’re looking to to serve and to bring value and meaning to uh speaking of meaning what does it take my dog that is crying usually stays on the desk with me one of the two and now it’s not but it cannot come out by itself
5. What does it take to make a design meaningful?
Every time we create a product um or any solution in general somehow we are touching the life of these people in a variety of different
Ways and we can add um convenience safety Beauty style and a variety of other values to the life of these people or on the opposite direction we can make the life of these people and I’m we can create complications to their lives we can make it challenging and difficult therefore when we create something we should always be driven by this idea of creating something that is relevant to them
And relevant to the company you know I I and and so I Define this relevance through a series of principles of meaningful design that I talk about in the book there are two foundational principles that are one the idea of creating something that is functional that is emotional and is semiotic so it fulfilled a specific functional need it creates uh engagement and emotional level between you and the product in the
Quran and then somehow it represents you as a semiotic value it tells a story about you to the rest of the world and then the other foundational principle is that the the solution should be essentially and I synthetizing in a way you know but new unique different uh from anything out there then there are a series of other principles that somehow take you the level down and give you a direction on how to design these products the product should be
Sustainable from aesthetic standpoint from a functional standpoint from an equal ecological standpoint from a social standpoint respectful of people um from a emotional stem points from a financial statement there are a series of um values and I call it sustainable meaning that you need to think about your portfolio of products and Solutions in time it needs to be it needs to add all these different layers of value over
Time uh it’s not just about fulfilling a solution I need in the short term but really thinking about how the solution is sustainable over time and now you need to be ready to change over time to create something extraordinary for them Then There are a series of other clarifying principles but I invite you to have a look at the book it will be a longer story but he told you know those principles are really about the sensitivity of the designer and some of
The things we discussed earlier in this conversation uh about the fact that design is not just about the cold solution to a problem to a product but it’s a story that is the sensitivity of of uh the the the designer or the entrepreneur or anybody coming up with a lady and creating the solution behind that very good that that story is definitely challenging to create I’m sure
6. Why do we work so hard as human beings to get the right answers to the wrong questions? How can we do better?
Well often we live our lives personal lives as well as our professional lives answering to expectations that come from order and so here you are and they tell you
Well you need to do this and to do that you need to you know have certain steps in your life and you’re like okay this is what they’re asking me to do I comply I go to high school I go to university I get married eventually I do certain things that Society expect me to do you go to a job and they tell you this is your job description I hire you because of this and then later on they tell you well this is your project this is the brief
And what most of the people do is answering the brief working within the boundaries of the job description living within the boundaries of those expectations of society there are some people though and usually this is the mindset of the innovator the challenge the convention the challenge the question the challenge the brief not for the sake of challenging but just because they want to understand better they want to understand if what
They ask to do is the right thing to do for them but also for the people asking the people being your boss the company or even Society do we live in the right Society should we challenge the conventions of this Society is my job description great for my company or I could do more than that to really help the company in ways that the company doesn’t even realize is the question in the brief the right one
Or actually they should ask me something else because if I just answer the question I’m gonna generate a series of answers that are great that are right but the question is wrong and therefore by definition also those right answers will be wrong won’t have value as an example is an example I make in the book as well imagine they ask you to design a bridge and many people would be like okay they asked me to design a bridge so I’m going
To design a bridge and I’m going to design a bridge to these beautiful that is functionally unbelievable and and I I’m gonna generate you know a series of bridges and they will be incredible designers and Engineers that we generate beautiful and super functional bridges that we all admire and they’re very iconic but the real innovator and by the way the philosopher the child will ask why
Here I am with another dog just a second she’s well uh the real innovator as well as the philosopher and a child they all ask why is typical of the philosopher to ask why and then again why again why is a technique to arrive to their root cause to the primary cause of everything the children do the same for other reasons and so once when you start to apply you will figure out in the case of the bridge that first of all
Yes you need to move from A to B why do I need a bridge of course you need to move from one side of the river to the other side of the river but then you ask again why why do I need to move on the other side of the river and they will tell you what because in the other side of the river there is the hospital and therefore the people of this town they need to take a bridge to arrive in a convenient way to the hospital if you stop there
Immediately you will think well maybe the bridge is the solution but maybe I can invent something else maybe I’m going to invent a sort of drone that you can write that can make each person real time super quick much faster than taking a car and going on a bridge arriving to the other side of the river so already that is an innovation instead of Designing a bridge you’re designing a machine that can fly it can take you to the hospital
But if you keep asking why maybe you arrive to realize that actually you don’t need the hospital on the other side you know the hospital is there but you can build an Hospital on this side of the river and so instead of Designing yet another Bridge you’re gonna design an hospital that is by far better Solutions because these people can have right much faster to the hospital when they did it than taking a bridge and going to the other side of the river
This is a very banal example very simplistic example to show how often we keep creating solutions for problems that are not the right ones to solve and if we will question the challenge the brief who arrive to something very different I did this all my life because of a man that with these behaviors and the way he was conducting business somehow taught me the kind of mindset it was my partner in the agency I created many years ago his name is Claudio a
Famous shoe business producer imagine like meeting Jay-Z here in the United States when you’re 24 and creating a company with this person so that’s what happened to me and I learned by observing him how he would challenge everything and every time thinking how can I do something different from uh what I did you know even himself before or from what everybody else did before and he was using this technique of always trying to understand the root
Causes and how you could really create something relevant for people in a different way and so with that kind of mindset I joined 3M I joined PepsiCo and I started with challenging my own job description creating something different in the way I was interpreting my job they were asking me to design products mostly the aesthetic side of a product a 3M I created the chief design officer position over time doing much more than what they were asking me and I thought
I’d be in so much more value for the company than if I was just designing the style of those two products they asked me to design when I was 27.
Image credits: Pixabay, Mauro Porcini
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In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, innovation is often seen as the key to success. Companies are constantly seeking ways to gain a competitive advantage and stay ahead of the curve. Two concepts that often come up in discussions about innovation are disruptive innovation and sustaining innovation. Understanding the difference between these two types of innovation is crucial for companies looking to navigate the ever-changing marketplace effectively. In this article, we will explore the distinctions between disruptive and sustaining innovation and provide two real-world case studies to illustrate their practical applications.
Disruptive innovation refers to the introduction of a new product, service, or business model that fundamentally changes the existing market dynamics. It often disrupts traditional industries, displacing established products or services. Disruptive innovations usually start by serving niche markets or addressing the needs of under-served customers, eventually gaining traction and undermining existing market leaders. They often offer unique value propositions or bring significant cost advantages, enabling them to capture previously overlooked customer segments.
One prominent case study of disruptive innovation is Uber. Before Uber entered the transportation industry, traditional taxi services dominated the market. However, Uber brought a revolutionary business model by leveraging technology to connect passengers directly with drivers using their own vehicles. This disruptive approach offered several advantages like lower fares, real-time tracking, and cashless payments, giving it a competitive edge over traditional taxi services. This innovation not only transformed the ride-hailing industry but also revolutionized urban transportation around the world.
In contrast to disruptive innovation, sustaining innovation refers to incremental improvements made to existing products, services, or business models. It focuses on enhancing features, quality, or performance, helping companies improve their current market position or maintain a competitive advantage. Sustaining innovation allows companies to meet customer demands, keep up with changing market trends, and strengthen their market share by appealing to existing customers.
Apple’s evolution in the smartphone industry provides a compelling case study for sustaining innovation. When the first iPhone was introduced in 2007, it completely transformed the mobile phone landscape. However, instead of betting everything on a single disruptive innovation, Apple consistently pursued sustaining innovation by releasing new iterations of the iPhone each year. These subsequent models offered incremental improvements like faster processors, better cameras, and enhanced user experiences. By continually enhancing their product, Apple was able to maintain its market dominance and keep customers engaged, despite fierce competition from rival smartphone manufacturers.
Understanding the Difference
Differentiating between disruptive and sustaining innovation is crucial for businesses looking to adapt and thrive in today’s dynamic market environment. Disruptive innovation represents breakthrough changes that challenge existing norms, while sustaining innovation represents iterative enhancements aimed at maintaining market leadership.
By understanding the difference between these two forms of innovation, companies can make informed decisions about their strategic direction. They can identify opportunities for disruptive innovation to explore new markets, attract under-served customers, and potentially disrupt established industries. Simultaneously, they can also focus on sustaining innovation to enhance their existing products or services, ensuring they stay relevant and competitive.
Disruptive innovation and sustaining innovation play distinct roles in driving business success. While disruptive innovation can revolutionize industries and create new markets, sustaining innovation is essential for maintaining market dominance and satisfying current customer demands. Striking the right balance between these two forms of innovation can shape a company’s growth and longevity in an ever-evolving market.
Bottom line: Futurology is not fortune telling. Futurists use a scientific approach to create their deliverables, but a methodology and tools like those in FutureHacking™ can empower anyone to engage in futurology themselves.
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I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Douglas Ferguson of Voltage Control, to speak with him for their Innovation Series about my work as a popular keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, and thought leader on the topics of continuous innovation and change, and some of my work with clients to create innovative strategies, digital transformations, and increased organizational agility.
Measurement provides a good starting point for establishing a strong foundation. “No innovation idea emerges fully formed. What people come up with are idea fragments and you have to collect and connect those dots to create a fully formed idea.” Based on those ideas, begin by identifying the value you want to create.
In order to make sure an initiative creates all the value it intends to, Braden advocates for the use of experiments with checkpoints. “You can have checkpoints that you establish along the way in terms of getting from what you’re able to do now versus your vision for the full value that you hope to create.” When thinking through experiments to validate assumptions about feasibility, viability, and desirability, also consider the flaws that might be present in your experimentation process.
“Start plotting out all the different experiments that you plan to run and the learning that you hope to get from each one. Those are the things that you can measure against to show that you’re making progress, to show that you’re going to get to the end and that you’re on track.”
Planning with the end in mind also includes consideration for scaling the invention. “Make sure you’re laying out checkpoints around your ability to scale it, because if you can’t get to that [wide] adoption point, then most likely you’re not going to get your investment back.” Think through what you’ll have to work against in order to scale so that profitability is part of the long-term plan from the beginning. Braden looks to companies like Tesla as an example of the potentially disastrous effects an inability to profitably scale can have on a product and a company’s viability despite having strong ideas and exploration practices.
But, they’re also curious given all the great tools in the Change Planning Toolkit™ that can fundamentally transform how we plan our projects and change initiatives, helping individuals and organizations move beyond theory to practice, whether I’ll ever create anything similar to help companies increase their innovation success.
The answer to both questions is a resounding YES!
I am pursuing, in parallel, the Define, Design, and Develop phases on a number of different tools to form the basis of a Human-Centered Innovation Toolkit™ for organizations to leverage in pursuit of my evolution of value innovation.
If you’ve attended one of my innovation keynotes or workshops you’ve seen how my innovation viewpoint (Innovation is All About Value) leads to all types of innovation, including disruptive innovation, and how it links to LEAN methodologies so that organizations can organize and execute across the entire spectrum of improvement and innovation possibilities.
At the same time, I am also finishing efforts to define a new Innovation Intervention service offering to help organizations who have started an innovation effort or built an innovation program, only to see it go off the rails. I will work with organizations in an Innovation Intervention to help them get back on track towards success and build a foundation capable of sustaining continuous innovation. Forward-thinking organizations that haven’t begun an innovation program or a focus on innovation and want to get off to a strong start will be able to leverage this upcoming Innovation Intervention service too.
Finally, when I do write a third book, it will probably dig deeper into how to build an organization wired for continuous change, including successfully executing a digital transformation and sustaining full spectrum innovation and improvement excellence.