Tuesday, May 4, 2010

FEI: Unreasonable Behaviour—A Driving Force for Innovation?

Does unreasonable behaviour inspire disruptive innovation? If you set goals for a project that are not just challenging but are actually unreasonable, you can inspire a team to challenge conventional thinking and look for a step change – a radical innovation.

This is the subject presented at the keynote presentation at Front End of Innovation in Boston yesterday afternoon. Mark Harrison of Diageo and Eric Wilkinson of Cambridge Consultants gave a presentation that was both inspriring and entertaining. This was not only because of their natural double act potential – they obviously know each other well – but also because they were talking from real, current experience of a new project that may well achieve just that: a step change in the market.

What’s unreasonable behaviour? Mark described it as thinking the unthinkable, as a way of growing your business through innovation.

Mark and Eric used the development of a breakthrough drink and delivery system as their main example – frozen drinks on tap. The delivery system needed to be designed to a cost point that was not just slightly lower, but was a fraction of the cost of existing systems – unthinkable at the time.

How did they do it?

1. Create conditions like a crisis without the chaos of a real crisis. Without this, you will do what you’ve always done, and you will get what you always get – incremental innovation. You need to adjust your goals.

2. Good partnerships. The right partners to bring the skills, experience and attitude to rise to the challenge. Cambridge Consultants were Diageo’s development partner to deliver this particular innovation.

3. Good process. It’s not random chance – Cambridge Consultants’ logic tree approach makes sure you don’t just arrive at the first solution but the optimal solution – both avoiding existing IP and protecting your position.

With all this in place, the major technical breakthrough came two months in, and within three months there was a working prototype. Within a year the alpha build was being made.

So being unreasonable – thinking the unthinkable – can work. And with the right team, as Mark said, if you can do this once you can do it every time.

Mark was unable to reveal the brands that would be launching the product… but watch this space.

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