Monday, 23 January 2012

Digital Driving Me Mad

Happy New Year, and Gong Xi Fa Cai, happy year of the Dragon to my friends in China.

Digital is driving me mad – not crazy mad, but lust for learning mad.  I think I have a screen in every room of the house now, two by my bed and I've worked out how to listen to a different podcast each morning on the way to work.  I love the random associative behaviour it promotes as I jump from someone's Ted talk to someone else's You Tube innovation rant to someone else's innovation website.  Meanwhile hours pass by….

On Monday I listened to Eric Reis talk about his book 'Lean Start Up' (excellent by the way) – I was there with about 400 tech start-ups.  Looking around the room I was struck by how many of our clients feel trapped in long cycle style innovation.  Regulation and capital cost 'keeping them away' from customers, almost as if you can get numbed out by the weight of these things.  In contrast these tech start-ups have not much to lose, easy access to customers and ability to vary the product in response to online feedback – almost instantly.  Feels like a world away from pharma or banking.  But I think the spirit of a tech start-up style 'serial experiments' is a much more useful way to see 'failure'.  I've always been irked by the phrase 'tolerate failure'.  It's struck me as one of the all-time annoying axioms of innovation.  My new year’s resolution, especially working with long cycle partners – let's plan in multiple learning loops, and value what doesn't work as much as the successes.

On Wednesday I met with the publisher of my upcoming book on innovation – current title is 'The Method of Madness'.  My mission is to help unlock the promise of innovation – it really promises a lot but often fails to deliver!  The core theme is how senior execs in large organisations wake up one morning to realise the system is controlling them, too many meetings, too much reporting, and too much process.  They yearn to rip off the tie and get out of the office into their marketplace and behave more like an entrepreneur, but somehow it all feels too difficult.  I've met lots of these people, and their bosses who wish their team was more entrepreneurial – so if everyone wants it how do we get it?  We're so lucky at ?What If! to have seen up close and personal across many industry sectors how some firms win and lose at this.  The contrast between success and failure has been instructive and I'm pulling together my observations in this book.  My publisher encouraged me, in the spirit of innovation, to start sharing the content early.  So that's the plan – send me feedback please.  Next week you'll get a summary of chapter one – what sort of people make great innovators.

But back to digital – I met Mark Champkins yesterday.  He's the London Science Museum's Inventor in Residence.  He opened his bag of inventions – some really great ideas here.  Amongst them 'pre chewed' pencils for kids

He confided that the idea was low on insight and high on publicity value.  He chewed / designed one, loaded the photo, someone blogged, then someone more influential blogged and before he knew it his pre-chewed pencils were all over the press and TV – driving traffic to his site.  That's nutty but brilliant digital marketing working at incredible speed.