Thursday, 9 February 2012

Seeing is Believing

A simple way of looking at the innovation journey starts with insight (a penetrating glimpse into why people behave as they do).  Then comes what some call ‘ideation’ (can’t work out if I hate or love that word) and then implementation.  No prizes for guessing the part of this journey that’s most stressful, expensive and prone to screw ups.  Getting a new product or service over the line and into the market can be 99% of the task.  Something not for the feint-hearted.  Recently I came across a great story about the power of illusion, pretending that the line had been crossed, that the dream had already been achieved. 
James Averdieck is the founder of Gü.  This is a $80m chilled chocolate soufflé and brownies company operating in Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.  Their publicity heralds ‘nibbles and naughty’s of chocolate extremism that’s strictly for adults’. Hear James talk - ‘Chocolate is about fun and indulgence; it brings out the kid in us, the smell; it reminds you of sticking your hand in the mixing bowl’ and see the company rules  - you soon start to get the picture:

James told me about the birth of the brand.  The story goes something like this: In 2002 James had an initial concept named ‘The Belgian Chocolate Company’. He hadn’t yet talked to supermarkets about it, this was a good thing because, and to use James words ‘the name was shit’.  I agree.  So back to the story - James hires UK design company Big Fish to come up with a brand identity.  In he walks to their offices to be shown a brand that creative director Perry Haydn Taylor had located in Scandinavia.  Called ‘Gü’ it had an exotic continental ring, it’s onomatopoeic spelling was just right and the design looked just right for upmarket yummie-mummies.  James was devastated; someone somewhere had had HIS idea.  Heartbroken he hardly heard Perry release him from his misery and tell him that if he wanted it the idea was all his.  I think this is a superb example of mental trickery.  Of course it’s high stakes, imagine how the meeting would have gone if James’s reaction was ‘ok, but we can do better yeah’?  The point of this story is that future was made real, in dramatic effective style.

It reminds me of the how Disney’s Animal Kingdom got off the ground in Florida.  Joe Rohde, a Disney Imagineer, convinced a skeptical Disney investment board that yes, animals were interesting, really interesting – he bought a 400 pound Bengal tiger into the boardroom!  Debate about whether there was a real business in animals evaporated. 

Back to Gü. The sneaky but powerful launch trick was not lost on James.  Weeks later he crept into upmarket Waitrose food store on London’s Kings Road.  Unobserved he re-merchandised a small section of the store and carefully placed four empty mock ups of his delicious chocolate soufflé.  With baited breath he stood back, within minutes a shopper approached the section, reached out and picked up one of the packs.  After what seemed like a lifetime to James she put the fake pack into her shopping basket.  James then did two things; first he apologised to the shopper, whipped the soufflé out of the basket and fled.  Second he made his mind up to devote himself to establishing Gü.  This is all the research an entrepreneur needs, just enough proof to back up what you know to be true, just enough to tip you over the edge and no more.