Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Faster Horses and Boxes

"If I asked my customers what they wanted they would have asked for a faster horse". That Henry Ford quote happens to be one of my favourites. I think about it (and use it) when head scratching around how to take our business to the next level.

Barrie Mckenna recounted it recently in his December 31st feature on Disruptive Innovation in the Globe and Mail ROB - a quick but good read of 10 key corporate innovations of 2007 from Southwest Airlines to RIM to vitamin water. The term "disruptive innovation" was coined by a Harvard Business professor to describe products or services so BIG that they displace all similar offerings that came before. So where do these ideas originate? Referencing the famous Ford quote, McKenna argues that companies may be looking in the wrong places for the next big idea. Hmmmmmmm.

As I sit at my desk today looking out upon an entirely new year, I am partly reflecting on the ideas and innovations that we experienced last year. For Veritas 2007 saw a merger, a move and the launch of 2 new practices - TAKE COMMAND a unique crisis management service and Com.motion, our new social media practice. It was a pivotal year for us. And though I am enjoying the reflection tremendously (now that I am seeing it in the rear view mirror, of course) what gets me most excited is really contemplating our NEXT BIG thing! What is it and where will it come from? Will it be led by our customers or - as Henry Ford implied - will it lead our customers to somewhere they could not have otherwise imagined? No doubt, I am not alone in that frame of mind today.

I recently heard a terrific Harvard Business Review Magazine podcast with Kevin Coyne, co-author of the HBR magazine article, Breakthrough Thinking from Inside the Box. The point Coyne makes is that asking people to 'think outside the box' tends to result in disjointed ideas that "ricochet off the walls", as he says. Using interesting anecdotes he talks about developing ideas without traditional brainstoming simply by finding other boxes. It is about having a structure for ideation that leads to good strategic thinking and he discusses a number of questions that can be asked to help develop killer ideas without being too far outside the proverbial.

Here are five sample questions:
1. Who uses our product in ways that we never expected?
2. What is the biggest hassle of purchasing or using our product?
3. How would our product change if it were customized for every user?
4. What customers could be major users if we could eliminate one barrier to use that we've never considered elimintaing before?
5.Which technologies have changed the most since we last updated our product?

I look forward to spending some time in this arena discussing the innovations that will shape our world in 2008 and beyond with you. Wishing you a year of BIG ideas!