Why engaging with new ideas matters

Posted by on Feb 8, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Just sent off my preso from the great PSFK show 10 days ago to Piers and co.

I'll let you know when they post it but meanwhile here's more or less what I was saying:

1. Neophilia or neophobia?
Those of us who go to these kind of dos are already going to 'get' the value of engaging and playing with new ideas.

The trouble is most large organisations find the new and the novel threatening because their cultures are often dominated by the core business and doing it ever more efficiently. Managers in these kind of organisations know from their own experience how hard it is to change existing customer behaviour, how hard it is to predict which idea will take off and – despite millions spent on  'innovation' experts – the track record of most large organisations in innovation is really poor. Even the simplest changes are really hard, never mind significant innovation: it took Heinz 120 years to turn the ketchup bottle & its label the right way upAs one mate of mine puts it innovation is a great way of turning shareholder funds into smoke…

So what we need is a manifesto for folk in these kinds of organisations to help them get the best out of new ideas. [Please add/amend as you feel right?]

Reason 1: New ideas help you see your own existing ideas (HT John)
All too often your beliefs about how things are, what matters and how best to do things get embedded in operational concerns; it's often quite hard to examine these things, unless that is you take other people's ideas as a useful challenge. It's not that you have to rush off and drop everything you believe in (although you  might choose to do so…). Great example at NESTA recently of how a big company didn't take this up…

Reason 2: Hacks to the future
. The point is you have to play with stuff (as Dan points out) to really get to grips with what it might mean; the longer you hold back the harder it'll be later. Great examples include Alfie's work with geotagging at e.g Stoppedclocks and Russell's stuff on people and things

Reason 3: Simple NPD Hacks
Innovation isn't always about big stuff – systemic change – but often
it's about small additions, changes that in themselves amount to not
very much but create the opportunity for massive change in ways you'll
never understand ahead of time. Sometimes it's just a better way of solving the problem. Lots of e.g.s here but probably the best 3 ways of thinking about it are:

a. making something better (e.g. Monopoly was originally invented by an East Coast matron, one Elizabeth Phillips, as a moral education game, to teach of the evils of property speculation but in 1934 unemployed plumber Charles Darrow turned it into the game we now know & love.
b. bringing ideas from outside the category (or "to Shraeger" as EatBigFish calls it after the nightclub owner who invented the boutique hotel) can quickly transform a product or service offering
c. improv theatre is rooted in the idea of seeing an offer in everything: the point here is that you need to ask yourself what each and every new idea can teach your existing business – new audience, new offer, new economic model, new tricks etc.

Reason 4: Embracing opportunity
However good the ideas a big organisation hass, however much it pays for them, one of the biggest problems is how slow they are at implementing new stuff. Part of the cause of this is cognitive, it seems. Swedish neuroscientist, David Ingvar, suggests that creative and entrepreneurial minds are constantly imaging how things might be different: this gives them a headstart in spotting new opportunities – if Ingvar is correct, they have literally seen them before (that's why they often describe them as familiar). So the more you examine new stuff and the more you get engaged the less time you have to spend working out where the opportunities are

Reason 5: Making an interesting place to work

Nowadays most of our economy (or what's left of it) is based in people-businesses (compare 100 years ago, when most of it was in extraction or processing manufacturing businesses). McKinsey calls this the tacit interaction economy. The problem is that while we've learned just about as much as we can about making extraction, processing & manufacturing businesses efficient, we've just not cracked it for people businesses – the range of efficiencies observed is 9 times that seen in these other ones.

If you run one of these businesses today, you might see encouraging your folk to engage with new ideas as a matter of principle not only creates a more interesting place but a more profitable one, too. If moving coffee stations can add millions to the bottom line in one office by changing how folk interact, this might just do even more (particularly as you don't have much of the money stuff to offer, anymore).

Clearly this is not the definitive list of reasons why – do you have any more?

PS Congrats to Dan – best suggestion here.  Where should I send the prize, mate?

UPDATE: PSFK's post and discussion


  1. donttellmymum.com
    February 8, 2009

    Great post, Mark. Look forward to the reading the full pres.
    Different but perhaps related point to “Simple NPD Hacks” is that ‘new’ doesn’t necessarily have to *feel* ‘new’.
    In fact, innovation is arguably more successful when it maps on to behaviour that we already exhibit.
    For example, Keep the Change by Bank of America: the habit we’re used to of collecting the physical pennies we receive as change when paying with cash is applied to virtual funds – debit card purchases are rounded up and the difference automatically deposited in a savings account…
    Since its inception, customers have saved more than $10bn dollars.

  2. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnRFm6GyxMwYN7nMYipRKE4dq-AK-ZBeU0
    February 9, 2009

    Sounds like you were saying some interesting things – as always! I totally agree that there’s almost a requirement for some type of ideas manifesto – although increasingly the companies that already have those types of process will increasingly be at an advantage anyway.
    Also good to see acknowledgment of the small changes and additions that actually make a big difference with the benefit of hindsight – working for a large company I’ve seen a few seemingly small changes starting to make bigger differences over the last couple of years.
    And finally – Cheers…the first book prize I’ve won since secondary school! Address sent via Twitter…next challenge for me is to win a place on the blog roll…:)