General thoughts

Unlocking Advanced Innovation

Over the last few decades in business I’ve seen many companies come and go. I’ve been on the frontline of hugely disruptive innovations and also the founder of several innovative startups, most of which were spectacularly, and sometimes painfully, unsuccessful. Throughout all this experience, when it comes to innovation, there is a common trait that separates those who compete normally and those who appear to have an unfair competitive advantage. That trait is the ability to elevate their perspective of the business they are actually in and then innovate like crazy within the broadened view.

From observation I’d say that the primary opportunities for innovation within any market are limited by the business you perceive yourself to be in. For example, Nokia had the slogan “Connecting People”, but perceived that intention as being “via mobile phones”. If they had elevated their perspective I wonder whether they would have actually created Facebook. I doubt that the iPhone would have disrupted them if they had this type of broader view.

Kodak had a fixed view of the business they were in, opening themselves up for eventual disruption by the camera phone industry. Whereas Fujifilm, theoretically in the same industry, elevated their perspective to realise they were actually in the business of manipulating the effect that light has on material. That was their main thing. This opened up a massive field of opportunity and they launched the market leading anti-wrinkle skin care cream brand AstaLift.

What Fujifilm did was unlock advanced innovation. This isn’t “me too” or incremental innovation, which basically competes in the same context as everyone else. This is innovation in areas that competition simply do not see. Why? Because of their limited perspective of the business they are actually in.

Something unique happens when you are able to elevate perspective and that is the wonderful ability to view everything around you as idea fuel, regardless of industry. For example, you could distill what Airbnb are doing into linking surplus to demand through accessibility and ask “how could we enable our main thing by doing that?”. The same with Kickstarter which, once distilled, is purely linking belief to production through investment. Everything becomes idea fuel.

I used to run a series of retreats all over the world called The Unlock Sessions for small groups of people who were eager to unlock advanced innovation. Participants arrived with an existing business challenge or opportunity, and left with a totally unfair competitive advantage. Within these sessions I’ve noticed that even the most elevated perspective is still able to be expanded further. I’ve found that ideas can always be supercharged through a method I call “Even better if…”. It turns out the biggest challenge in place is primarily in terms of mindset, including whether it is even worth investing into unlocking advanced innovation in the first place. One thing is for sure though, it is far more risky to compete on a level playing field, especially when there’s a significant risk that your competitors are not.