April 12, 2009

Mark Earls: Why are good ideas important?

Many people think that those who like change are diseased with neophilia, instead of concentrating on the things that matter in the here and now. On the face of it they're right. Most new ideas fail. But Mark Earls' PSFK presentation last month puts forward a very good case for why ever-seeking change is a Good Thing.

Earlier, I blogged a short talk from John Cleese outlining the physical and emotional conditions of coming up with great ideas. Here, Mark concentrates more on processes you can employ all the time, strategies even for your organisation or yourself.

Even small changes end up normally taking generations to happen. Heinz took 123 years to turn the label on their bottle around to the 'right' way - because we need to store our bottle on its lid to get any out [compare the old bottle with the current one]. They had spent many creative conversations debating it, but had never turned that into action.

New ideas help us test our old ideas
The lesson here for me is that we need to test out our own ideas first, before convincing people that they might be worth trying. Just do it, rather than think about stuff in the abstract. Mark picks up on an interaction between Lloyds' innovation blokey and the peer-to-peer lending bank, Zopa. The Lloyds man asked: "Would my market be changed by peer-to-peer banking?" This wasn't the first thought of the guys creating Zopa, who saw banking as about people, money as a means to be entertained and live better, money as a social experience. The man from Lloyds, when thinking about Zopa, saw it as a bottom-line business. He missed the point and as a result missed an opportunity to see the real threat to their business: not understanding how people relate to each other around money, as well as how they relate with money itself.

Explore the future
Ogilvy's website runs with a tagline from their founder:

"Encourage innovation. Change is our lifeblood, stagnation our deathknell."

They run Ogilvy Labs where they can play with unknown stuff and let their clients see what could happen. This is all done on the basis that you won't know what they future might hold until you play. It's the concept I've battled to get across with naysayers of new technologies (and pedagogies) in the education world: "You don't know what you don't know you don't know."

Everything's hacked
It is now rare or unlikely altogether that there is such a thing as an original. 90% of products fail in their first year in the UK and given that most new products are modeled on old ones, this will not change any time soon. There are two main things to bear in mind when hacking someone else's stuff:

  • Improve or adapt (read the history of the board game Monopoly, and how the serious Quaker version of Monopoly which was designed to teach the shortcomings of desiring too much property was made better and more entertaining by the Parker Brothers). Nearly everything out there is a hack, something that's been broken up and made better.
  • Reapply from the outside - take something from one market and apply it to your own. Notice everything and ask yourself "what's the offer here to solve a problem?"

Embrace opportunities when they come up
We sit on opportunities, keep them secret instead of doing something to get it out there. One of the hardest things to do is make quick decisions when subject to an overwhelming (and often limitless) choice. Delve into 20 minutes of Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice to understand this one. Yet, when a photographer is faced with 20-50 versions of the 'same shot', they are uncannily quick at ascertaining which shot is 'the' shot. Try it yourself - lots. Like a photographer, quick innovative thought takes practice (and occasionally getting it wrong) before being a creative bone you can rely on.

Entrepreneurs in this way have "memories of the future" - things feel familiar the first time you see them because you're constantly thinking about change.

Make your company more interesting
Change is fascinating, challenging, interesting. Making your workplace interesting will make people want to work there more and better. Logical, really.

Creative next steps
When you're faced with a challenge, a potential outside change, a new idea, ask yourself the following questions, and ask those around you, too:

  1. What does this challenge?
  2. How can I participate/play?
  3. What's the offer in this thought for me? (not if they're right or wrong)
  4. Where do these things suggest things are going? and what can I do now?
  5. How might engaging with this make people's jobs more interesting?


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Thank you! You have made my day and changed my perspective. I do not mean to be simplistic in my interpretation of this deep topic but even on its surface it is an attitude changer.

We bemoan the slow progress of change in education...We know we do not have "123" years... but I can change my mind and take a much more positive tact. I know it is true that -

"Change is fascinating, challenging, interesting. Making your workplace interesting will make people want to work there more and better. Logical, really."

This will be my message for my conference presentation next week and will be part of m LeaderTalk post today. It is about play which goes back to BLC two years ago

I love his bit about "Money as an experience." It really speaks to the business model that, ultimately, you can't be most worried about making money or you're never going to deliver a good product. Serve your audience, listen to their needs, give them a product of integrity that doesn't monetize them as figures, but rather people trying to live life in the same world as you. Give the people what they want...and the money will come. Goes back to "doing things to others you'd like done to yourself"... probably the best business model phrase ever spoken.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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