Comedy and Innovation are Bedfellows

See-through-eye-of-the-customerMany comedians are gifted with the same ability that good innovators have. Jerry Seinfeld is a great example. Jerry has the ability to see everyday things from a different angle. I prefer to think of it as “through a different set of eyes” to most people. Once he strips bare the everyday “nuance”, the humour unravels fast. He almost always looks at the problem the “nuance” created or could create.

Innovation requires the same skills. Looking at problems through the eyes of someone else. Looking at it with a fresh mindset. Looking at simple things.

Is Innovative thinking a Trainable Skill?

Yes, I think so. Here are tips to advance your innovative thinking:

Firstly, whose eyes will you be looking through? It should be the customer-set that you are hoping to capture. This may not be the customer-set you communicate with today. Crawl into the mind of this customer-set and try to imagine their thinking on the topic you are exploring.

You have to talk with an enquiring mind to understand their thinking. A great way to do this is to ask about problems. Ask why up to 5 times to really understand issues.

Secondly, new and naive people in the customer-set are just as valuable as the experienced and learned. It’s a fact that new “learner drivers” notice the annoying features of a new car far more than the experienced driver. With experience, the brain glosses over the everyday issues and nuances. These experienced people cant always see the simple nuances that annoy new drivers. They ignore the everyday bug-bears. So interview the young and naive as well as those with money.

Thirdly, a foreign designed object that looks foreign will provoke a lot of questions. My belief is basic needs around the world are fundamentally similar. It’s the environment that changes and this drives an additional layer of needs. Moving objects from one environment to another highlights this layer. Grab a lunchbox from Japan and see how it compares with yours.

At the Shanghai Boat Show a few years ago , I was puzzled why so many (not all) of the large cruising boats on display had a single engine. Were the Chinese not aware of the major benefits of twin engines? Yes they were aware; but no, they didn’t need them. Most buyers wanted large karaoke party boats. This meant small engine rooms, small galley kitchen and a huge below deck karaoke room. This customer-set found it easier to hire a karaoke boat than to rent a nightclub room.

You have new “eyes” what can you see?

Firstly, keep observations very simple. Don’t over complicate requirements or problems. Keep each one simply isolated from another. Don’t combine 2 problems together. Look at the very basics with fresh eyes and think about the problems you can see.

Here is a funny excerpt from Seinfeld:

Kramer: Mmm… Nice wallet.
Newman: Wallet.
Jerry: What?
Kramer showing Jerry the contents of his pocket
Kramer: Nobody carries wallets anymore. I mean, they went out with powdered wigs. Yeah, see here’s what you need. Just a couple of cards and your bankroll.
See, keep the big bills on the outside.
Jerry: That’s a five.

The humour is in the simple nuances. Could Kramer design an innovative wallet? Yes, if he wanted to…

Now you are in the final phase of this simple journey.

You have all the small nuance problems listed.

Now brainstorm solutions. Have as many team members working creative solutions. (see my other blog on the power of having quirky people on your team).

  • Use a principal that one solution for one problem is inadequate.
  • One solution to 2 problems is fair.
  • One solution to 3 problems is good.
  • More than this and you may have cracked it.

In the Kimberley Kruiser project we had documented over 160 problems. The core solutions were less than 30. Thats a nice ratio.

Practice will make you perfect

The only thing that will make you better is failure. Big failure is all to obvious. Its the small annoying mediocre failures that cost even more as you may persevere hoping that the innovation will pan out. When the don’t, you have lost a lot of time. We always undervalue time and over value the expenses we are trying to save.

Save yourself a lot of money and gain the experience of my failures. As a bonus you will get trained in the practical Innovation of your Big Ideas.

Read all of Bruce Loxton’s blogs on Innovation, simplification and be inspired to do 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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