Friday, 26 August 2011

Casanova for Chief Innovation Officer?

The dating game can teach us how to innovate

I’ve been married for nearly 20 years so clearly I like giving others advice on dating.  So here’s my simple formula for finding a partner:

1.   Opposites attract – so practice being the ‘real you’, in fact, become a ‘super you’.  Be louder about what you believe in, accentuate your idiosyncrasies.  Don’t bland out.

2.   Lower your standards – kiss a lots of frogs, dating is a volume game and if you’re not in stock no one will buy.

3.   Be tenacious – if you keep asking eventually you’ll get what you want.  (I once made the mistake of asking my wife why she dated me and she said it was because I kept calling, was punctual and ‘in work’. Hmmm).

Right now innovators everywhere can learn a lot from these ‘attraction strategies’.  When we first started ?What If! nearly 20 years ago innovation was all about extending products and services further into their category, to grab more shelf space, throat share, wallet share.  Over the last two decades the pace of change has accelerated and markets have become more blurred.  Fuelled by opportunities the internet has provided and stimulated by brands like Virgin - overnight we’ve all become experts at category mental gymnastics.  

Most innovators I know have gotten very good at thinking broadly beyond their market and toying with adjacent territories.  We’re no longer shocked at Vodafone becoming a bank (M-Pesa), at Tesco becoming a mobile phone company or Amazon selling golf clubs.  What’s next?  KFC buy an airline? (hmmm – long flight, good movie, snuggled up with a bucket of shame – hang on, that's not so bad…).  Innovators today have to think very flexibly about core competencies, the role their brand could play in someone’s life - they’ve learnt to ignore category labels.  My little electric car isn’t a car – it’s a dry cycle, it competes directly with my bicycle and on rainy days it wins. 

So we’ve got good at thinking flexibly about markets and categories, but what about doing something about it?  Can you become the kind of business that doesn't just talk about mashing categories but actually does it?

Here’s where the rules of dating come in.  How can corporations use the laws of attraction to find new partners?

1.   Don't bland out:  Suddenly it’s become very easy to publish a point of view.  Social media affords brand owners more edge, more of a provocative voice, something they need if they’re to meet new organisations that could end up being great bedfellows.  Cisco have a futurologist called Dave Evans, who told me that soon we would all live to 1000!  Provocative perspectives like this attract unimaginable conversations and opportunities.  Partnerships aren’t made just on rational terms, there needs to be some electricity, a punchy perspective on how the world is going to be is a prerequisite for partnership.  A silent company without bloggers, clubs, controversial speakers, a visible opinionated CEO – all this reduces the chances of attracting a mate and co-creating something new.

2.   Incubate new relationships:  You wouldn't go on a first date to your parent’s house.  So too Telefonica subsidiary O2 has pioneered a wide range of partnerships through attracting talent from outside it’s area of expertise and allowing it to flourish away from head office.  O2 looks increasingly unlike a mobile phone company and more like an entertainment business.  Contrast this with Tesco who acquired banking skills bringing them ‘in-house’.  No time or space for a fresh category-busting identity to emerge?  Looks like just another bank to me.

3.   Be tenacious:  Organisations that strive for something beyond current revenue are more likely to develop in unexpected and exciting ways.  IKEA’s corporate purpose has always been to improve lives through making good design more widely available.   It’s because IKEA don't let go of this ‘higher purpose’ that they now make flat pack houses, in partnership in the UK with LiveSmart@ Home.

So let’s promote Casanova to CIO – sounds like fun to me!