“Stop trying to solve your problems. Solve their problems!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
Don’t chase solutions. Solve problems. But solve the right problems – go upside down!
I explored the concept of upside-down innovation in depth when Burger King invited me to talk at their annual franchise conference in Las Vegas. This was shortly after my work with Disney, where I first broached the idea of flipping things around.
Disney? They brought me in for a leadership talk focused on new ideas for creativity and innovation. This was a bit of a remarkable moment for me – after all, they are known as a creativity furnace, a cauldron of bubbling imaginations. But it was clear to me during our preliminary planning calls that they had one aspect of their creativity engine that they weren’t fully recognizing – I call it ‘upside down innovation,’
In their case, it was their key focus on what we call ‘customer-oriented innovation‘ – rather than you developing ideas and products based on what YOU think they want, develop it around what THEY tell you they want. It’s a core difference. Think about what most companies do:
- figure out a new product
- figure out a merchandising plan
- then do the marketing
Disney’s Consumer Products Division realized that the choices consumers were making were evolving so fast that they no longer had a truly good grasp on the innovation agenda that they should be pursuing. They also came to realize they while they were busy defining the product they might take to their retailers — those very same retailers saw product and market opportunities that were vastly different. So what did they do? They turned things around — they went upside down – and learned how to work with the retailers, by having the retailers do much of the product innovation! Or, in other words – customer-oriented innovation.
The sad thing is that far too many organizations never listen to what their customers are trying to tell them and will never get there.
As companies grow, senior managers become physically separated from their customers. The entire board of one of the major banks in Australia takes calls from customers every week, but this is a rare exception. A recent survey by Bain & Company found that 80% of companies believed that their firm delivered superior service. Only 8% of their customers agreed.
The Accidental Futurist, “How Companies Die“
That’s why partnership is such an important word – you have to live it, not just say it. When thinking about a new product or service development, don’t do it in isolation. Seek advice and guidance from your customers and business partners —or, even let them drive the innovation agenda. Turn your creativity and imagination engine upside down! Make your R&D strategy less about what you see as opportunities – and more about what your partners and customer see as opportunities. Adopt the mindset that ‘customer-oriented and partner-based innovation’ will be a key strategy – and you might find that solutions to challenges come faster! And The very process of turning your innovation-engine upside down will accelerate your internal capabilities – and lead you further into the opportunities that come from the era of acceleration.
Once you start taking things upside down, you come to realize that by flipping things around you can change how you approach everything.
Don’t say it can be done
Say that you’ll find a way to get it done
Don’t solve your problems
Solve customer’s problems
Don’t do innovation that goes in fits and start
Don’t establish ‘Innovation teams’ that come and go
Enshrine innovation in job descriptions so that it is always present
Don’t cling to the past
Align to the future
Don’t fight the future
Embrace the future
Don’t chase the reality you want
Create the reality you can pursue
Don’t look inside for ideas
Look outside for ideas
Never think the project is done
Know the project is never finished
Flip things around and magic happens! If you flip your key strategic questions around, you will discover the magic! Don’t ask what you can do to run your business better — ask what you can due to run your customer, supplier, or partner’s business better!
The very process of turning your innovation-engine upside down will accelerate your internal capabilities – and lead you further into the opportunities that come from the era of acceleration. But you can also use the idea of going ‘upside down’ as a basis to understand how key trends and the future will unfold. Here’s a clip from a leadership series I ran that explored the idea:
Go upside down! Stand on your head a little!
Going upside-down – it’s one of the most important innovation ideas that you can pursue!