The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Valentine’s Day Is A Moment, But The Future Is Forever …

One of the things that frustrates me is when companies talk loudly and proudly about their ambition but then follow it up with, “but we have to take baby steps to get there”.

The only thing that annoys me more is when agency folk say the work they’ve made isn’t great, but it does, “push the client a bit further than they were before”.

Look, I get it … there are many implications to what we do, but as much as this ‘softly, softly’ approach may sound like it makes sense, it often ends up being counter-productive.

Being slightly better than where you were means nothing if everyone around you is taking huge strides forward.

But of course, just blindly rushing ahead often ends up with people getting burnt … just like planning your progress while constantly looking through the rear-view mirror.

At some point, you have to take a leap.

A step-change from what is known and established to something that changes how you, your audience and your competitors look at what is possible.

For me, this is what innovation truly is about, not micro-improvements designed to keep a company or product up to date with what the category and their competitors are doing.

I get for the company involved, that may feel like a big step – and for them, maybe it is – but it’s not really moving them ahead, it’s just keeping them closer behind the people leading – and owning – change.

To make it worse, culture don’t really care how big a step it was for you, they care about what’s in it for them – so if it’s not done to move them forward, you’re basically putting the ‘no’ in innovation.

So how do you leap forward without falling?

Well, on one level, you can’t.

Innovation of any kind runs the risk of failure … that is inherent to anything that is trying to dramatically move forward.

However you can improve the odds of success.

I’m not just talking about having an open attitude towards failure … where you look at it as a way to learn and progress rather than to lose due to unnecessary risk.

I’m talking about the power of insight.

Insight gets a bad rap these days.

Some of it is because a lot of things people claim are insight are anything but.

However I have been noticing an increase in the number of people using the Henry Ford quote of, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d say a faster horse” … to basically try and undermine the value of insight.

But as I’ve talked about for years, if someone couldn’t tell from that quote that people wanted to get from A-to-B faster than they currently are able to do, then they’re a fucking idiot.

Sure, there is a lot of work to do to get from ‘speed of mobility’ to the creation of the motor vehicle, but the foundation of what people are looking for is right there for all to see.

Or hear.

Contrary to what many say, I personally believe people do know what they want … they just don’t know how to express it.

It might be said in hidden ways.

Or through actions written off as stupidity.

Or via behaviours that push against tradition.

Or with associations that feel random or misunderstood.

Or simply the core of a subculture inventing their own approaches.

It could be anything.

Which is why I believe our job is to listen, explore and investigate … recognize the clues culture expresses through their secret codes so you can work with your creative friends to translate this into something that defines something new.

Creates step change not a degree of change.

Reveals a new possibility rather than remakes something old.

Basically resonates with the speed and direction of culture, rather than tries to be relevant to the present rules.

And while that may indeed still fail or just require a shitload of hard work to evolve the idea into something infectious or – eventually – inevitable, it means you are leading change rather than being shaped because of it, which has the potential to change your future in ways no one could ever imagine.

Of course, the problem is not just that many people claim to want pragmatism but insist on micro-progress based on established behaviours, rules and habits … there’s the issue that some people evaluate something that challenges convention by the standards of what is already in place – ignoring the fact the idea they are evaluating it against has been given literally decades to hone their offering and establish their role.

Or said another way, some people happily kill something before it has been given the chance to be something, because they’re basing it on what they think rather than translating the codes of what culture want.

Like Blockbusters, who passed on Netflix.

Or Nokia who dismissed the threat of the Apple iPhone.

Or VW who basically laughed at Tesla and their electric car.

And while I accept anyone who wants create the future – rather than have it created for them – has a lot of obstacles to jump, there is good news.

Because for those who have competitors who believe progress only comes through refining and optimizing what they already have, they have been given the gift of time to create something that redefines the rules.

Leapfrogs established behaviours.

Create a new set of standards and expectations.

Because the only way to counter money, heritage and distribution is to innovate past it, in the knowledge that you know you’ve found something interesting when everyone feels the impact of your pragmatism …

Like a lightbulb compared to an optimised candle.

Before I go, to ensure I leave you in the Valentine’s Day spirit, here’s what love is in the modern age – as described by the wonderful Amelia – who DID give me permission to post this, so keep your insults to yourself.

Got to be honest, I’m glad I am married because if I wasn’t, I’d either end up single or in jail.

And yes John, I did say prosperity instead of posterity. Deal with it!

24 Comments so far
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This is a fantastic post Robert. The need to leap is a vital, yet often unstated, part of the innovation process and I really like how you have reframed insight as a method to minimise risk rather than a blueprint for the journey. Anyone who wants to move forward should read this, which is why it is a shame you ensured the only thing they will remember is the story of a man who adopted an orangutan in the name of your colleagues cat.

Comment by George

I agree. Rob, you need to repost this without the video because it makes remembering anything else impossible.

Comment by Pete

I’ve got to be honest, so do I but it was too good and – for once – too timely to ignore.

Besides, this post is not going to change a thing is it? I’m fortunate I’ve seen and am working on stuff that aspires to truly be a step change for an entire category (though I’ve seen way too much of the opposite over the years in terms of claims and then the harsh reality) but the fact is there has been way too much money invested in creating and promoting the illusion of innovation – from both companies and clients of those companies – to make a jot of difference on so the video at least leaves me with a smile on my face rather than a scowl. Hahaha.

In some ways, I blame China. When I was there, the ambition was insane. Everything and anything was possible and that was infectious. Leaving that to more conservative parts of the world was like someone had put the brakes on. Of course not everyone is like that (thank god) and China isn’t like it once was … but working with a company in a country that wants to follow through on its mad ambitions is more exciting than Amelia talking about her weird dates attempts to woo her. Hahaha.

Comment by Rob

Blaming China. You should write for Murdoch.

Comment by Bazza

I don’t disagree with your points at all. But it is worth remembering that some leaps require small, slow steps to make them a reality simply because the technology is not capable of consistent execution of the ask yet. That said I will be stealing and liberally distributing the lightbulb/optimized candle quote.

Comment by George

Fair. My problem is that many companies are more than capable of leading change – whether in product, service or communication – but don’t, or claim they are because it’s a step for them but still miles behind where competition and culture are already operating.

Comment by Rob

There are many excellent points in this post Robert. The one that resonated with me most is the danger of companies mistaking modernisation with innovation. You should write more posts like this.

Comment by Lee Hill

Your colleagues situation is humourous but also alarming.

Comment by Lee Hill

Yep. That’s the scary bit.

The only ones who always win are the ones claiming they’ve helped innovation to happen when it’s just – as you say – modernisation.

Again, that doesn’t mean this approach can’t work – it can – but just don’t call it innovation … even though I appreciate that word is worth far more money in both fees and marketing hype than “updated”.

Comment by Rob

The other problem is innovation within products and categories becomes harder once they are established in market.
There may not be a limit to what is possible in the mind, but there is in terms of the technology available and yet many technology companies are locked in to produce something new on an annual basis. This results in micro improvements sold under big headlines or meaningless features to reinforce innovation claims.
As much as I don’t want to praise Baz, but Apple are doing an excellent job in seeding new technology to slowly prepare society for letting go of their iPhones.

Comment by George

Oooooh, is this the reported reason why they really went into watches and headphones? To be fair to Apple, while they had far more success being fast followers rather than leaders, when they do it they make sure it works well.

As they once said, “new is easy, right is hard”.

Comment by Rob

An additional problem is that companies have inadvertently made people cynical to their claims of innovation. Not just because they claim it when they haven’t really done it – at least in the way society now views it and expects it – but because they have forgotten the fundamental rule to getting people to embrace the new.

Because as much as we all say we like different, we like familiarity so the way to get millions to adopt new is to make it feel like a natural extension of what they already know.

The issue is companies want to shout about their hard work so much, that they make ‘’new’ often sound totally different – focusing on what they’ve done rather than the benefit of it – which means it actually puts people off rather than pulls them in.

And when that innovation isn’t that big in the first place, it ultimately destroys trust rather than builds loyalty.

As I’ve said a lot, ego is often the biggest hindrance to a companies long term success and influence.

Comment by Rob

This may be the best comment thread I’ve ever seen on here.

Comment by Pete

Until Andrew wakes up. ; )

Comment by George

what the collective term for a group of wankers? planners.

Comment by andy@cynic

Not a bad post Rob, but is this all because you didn’t get Nike to make a robot car?

Comment by Bazza


Comment by George

Maybe. Ha.

Comment by Rob

Now that’s an insight

Comment by Northern

rupert howell got campbells number when he said the fucker is driving by hate. hes devolved to fucking petty.

Comment by andy@cynic

tldr fuckers.

Comment by andy@cynic

This actually made me laugh out loud.

Comment by Rob


Comment by DH

[…] Or as Lee said, they confuse innovation with modernisation. […]

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