“Welcome to Hell”.


Courage and Pain

“Welcome to Hell,” a caver once told me by a campfire at night. “Where happiness goes to die. . . . If you wish to survive, you need to cultivate a strong mental attitude.”

“Why do you do it?” I asked.

“We do it for the unimaginable pleasure of conquering the unknown.”

True exploring spirit with unbelievable courage; and, as far as I could tell, a numbness for pain. Have you experienced these emotions without the cave?

Hard to find a customer in such a place

There is a business reality that should keep you out of dark caves. It would be hard for most of us to make money in that environment. (Tongue in cheek: there may be some who say they do have customers from there…)

In the Innovation game, you need, in my opinion, to both swim in a sea of customers AND crawl into a private cave. You need customer problems and space to think through solutions. In an ideal world, one should quickly follow the other to keep the vision fresh.

Innovation is often born in pain and solitude

Stay with me on this thought.

  • The creative process is often triggered by a challenged mind.
  • Rather than pseudo create this state, push yourself into a challenge that really is a physical one.
  • Try the Oxfam walk for 200kms or a “half Ironman”.
  • Do this after days with your team and customers hearing all their issues.

An even better process is to invite customers that are absolutely ticked-off with your service or product or business:

  • They vent on you and your team as you sit in absolute silence.
  • Thank them, give them a gift and then look at the team after they leave.
  • Eyes will be filled with pain and suffering.
  • This is a great “kick-off’ to innovation outcomes.
  • Rather than hunker down, cowering after the customer tirade, (it may only be half true but take all the criticism on the chin), you need to be like the caver.
  • Map a way out with the team rather than jump to denial. It will be difficult.


Denial is Death

Denial will starve you of the abundant oxygen needed for innovation.

  • Write the criticisms in bold for all to see.
  • Visualize the difficulty for the customer.
  • Exaggerate the consequences to simplify the picture if needed.
  • However, facts are facts and absolutely essential for deep problem solving, keep these pure.

Strength of the Caver

An experienced leader does not like being “out on a limb” with the team “down and out” and no solution that is affordable at hand. Of course there is always a suggestion for the grandest of ideas, but it would need a pot of gold and a fairy godmother.

  • You have to work with what you have got.
  • You have to stay in the reality of budget and constraints yet paint the vision that is truly innovative.
  • You do need courage.
  • Show the pain to bond with the team. People are more motivated to help when they see the distress.

Fresh Beginnings climbing to a Peak

I’ve described the process to develop very innovative outcomes in other blogs and on my site. Its a structured and well practiced process. However, it works far better from a “melt down opening scene” than from a round of “congratulatory awards” for members of your team. Keep this to the end. Start from an all time low and build to the peak of enthusiasm.

Bruce Loxton leads groups on innovation of products and services and “doing the impossible”. Read all his blogs on Innovation and tackling the impossible.


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Bruce Loxton

Bruce Loxton is often described as an “engineers, engineer”. His career has included mechanical, mining, electrical and chemical engineering. Combine his passion for data and automation with business sales and delivery teams for a great-digitized process. However, Bruce is a thinker on design, strategy and working in teams. He has achieved “impossible” projects over his career by targeting the big and the bold. Innovation seems to come naturally to the very structured thought process on problem solving and value. Bruce was Non-Executive Chairman of Qinetiq Australia for 6 years till 2017. Qinetiq is Global Defence Technology provider with a market cap of $1Bn & listed (QQ.L). He is an Alumnus of: Harvard Business School, USC in LA, and IMD in Lausanne. He is a former Council Member, Chem. Eng Foundation, Uni of Sydney.

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