Thursday, 14 July 2011

Innovation – the fight for what’s right

Forget common sense – innovation needs fire in the belly

Innovation works much better if there’s a wrong to be righted.  Most start-ups and challenger brands are fuelled by this heady thought.  Airlines around the World have been challenged by the no frills model South West Airlines pioneered decades ago in the US.  For them it just wasn't right that the average American didn't have the freedom to find work in a distant city, or to visit loved ones more frequently.  This sense of anger, or righteousness still powers the organisation today. Last week I met Emma Sayle founder of Killing Kittens, an upmarket female focused ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ party organisation.  She is fighting the fact that men control the sex industry.  All of us who have seen the Social Network get how Facebook was born out of rejection and revenge.

But what about established organisations, market incumbents?   Here innovation is a combat role, there are so many hurdles, so many knock backs that innovators need a battle-cry, something that unites them, often against their own organisation, and something that drives them forward.   Unilever’s super successful deodorant Lynx / Axe formed the ‘Republic of Lynx’.   Innovators took the Blue Pill to signify their dedication to ‘helping young men get ahead in the dating game’.  Sound nuts?  The results they got don't.  At B&Q CEO Ian Cheshire has shone a light on a wrong to be righted.  He says that every customer has money in their wallet and if spent on DIY could make their lives better – see my May blog on B&Q’s innovation system.  These large established companies have developed their own version of a crusade, they’ve got angry, got righteous and got motivated.  And they haven’t resorted to mission statements which smell of endless and ineffective wordsmithing to most innovation hungry execs.

I don't believe there is a market sector that shouldn't get angry about how well they are serving their customers.  But in some industries it might seem tougher than others.  Of course we can get angry in a start up or maybe in retail or packaged goods companies.  It’s far easier to change here than in say, banking or the pharmaceutical industry.  And yet I’ve worked with passionate, fired up and angry execs in these highly regulated industries.  The people who make a difference get out of their office and into the world in which their customers inhabit, they see for themselves how well or poorly they serve their customer’s everyday needs.  I spent a spine tingling session with a CEO of a major pharma company and one of his customers.  We ‘hung out’ for the evening, in their home, with their family, hearing their story.  After that my client reported that he was moved, fired up to do more to help.  Whether this was anger or passion isn’t the point, they key is that innovation is a battle you can’t win unless you’re fighting for what’s right.

[Scroll down for practical innovation stuff on Apple, Google, Jack Wills and more]