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Ten learnings on thinking small for big impact

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When we take on big challenges, like innovation, it’s tempting to jump to big …

When we take on big challenges, like innovation, it’s tempting to jump to big
solutions. But sometimes, it’s the small things that matter most.
Small is in the detail. And small often requires big thought. But when
creating sustainable systems that support change there is power in small.
Here are ten (tiny) lessons we’ve learned at Wolff Olins
where thinking small can have a big impact.

Published in: Business, Economy & Finance

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  • 1. 10 learnings on thinking small for big impact
  • 2. Big change is in the detail… When we take on big challenges, like innovation, it’s tempting to jump to big solutions. But sometimes, it’s the small things that matter most. Small can mean: • Relentless focus instead of a broad view • Input from a few rather than many • Prioritising a humble approach over a bombastic one • Valuing the insight of one customer over the data from many • Creating connections that may otherwise be overlooked Small is in the detail. And small often requires big thought. But when creating sustainable systems that support change there is power in small. Here are ten (tiny) lessons we’ve learned at Wolff Olins where thinking small can have a big impact.
  • 3. 1. Embrace an attitude of small To think big, start small. While entrepreneurial ventures succeed when they do something very focused very well; large enterprises tend to make the biggest impact by doing modest things, at scale.
  • 4. 2. For disruptive innovation, create a nimble team There’s a lot of chatter about making every employee an innovator. But disruptive innovation isn’t democratic. The inspiration for moving into adjacent markets or engaging in disruptive change is the job of a small circle of people whose talent is seeing the company and the industry as a system. They could be business heads, analysts, consultants or members of a specialised innovation team.
  • 5. 3. Engineer connections to catch the best ideas Simple, but important links between new projects and P&Ls will ensure success. Innovation wilts in isolation, but an intelligent, connective layer will allow quick and intuitive growth. To do this, engage business heads early and often and create clear paths into existing infrastructure.
  • 6. 4. Choose the right moments for big-storming Be specific. Crowd-sourcing ideas should not be an everyday occurrence; it should be treated as a special occasion. Set people up for success – carefully craft questions that unlock ideas about the core business that they know best. Be explicit about rewards for concepts that rise above the rest.
  • 7. 5. Reward individual behaviours that add up to big change Hire, manage, compensate and promote people to make them effective innovators. For front-line employees, make room in their goals for crowd-sourcing challenges, and measure performance based on how well they adopt new practices that are critical to progress. For employees in charge of more ambitious innovation programmes, reward them for collaborating well on the inside, partnering well on the outside, taking regular but measured risks, adding to institutional knowledge and contributing to financial growth.
  • 8. 6. Be open to outside stories Chances are, some flavour of the problem you’re wrestling with today has been confronted before, in another industry or at a smaller scale. Taking cues from the outside world is hardest for businesses that have grown organically, around a strong culture. But the effort is worth it. Innovation can thrive using an analogy as inspiration.
  • 9. 7. Learn from the little guys Learn from early-stage ventures by working alongside them. Make equity investments to align their future with yours. In exchange for exposure to their thinking, help early-stage companies stress-test their concepts by introducing them to customers or data and fast-track conversations with the right leaders within your business.
  • 10. 8. Talk to people Stories are sometimes lost in big data sets. Cultivate insight from individual customers and their unique moments of interaction with your company. Existing customers can be your best friends in developing new products, services and business models. Not only are your efforts more likely to hit their mark, the very act of co-inventing with customers creates a new kind of engagement and loyalty.
  • 11. 9. Fail small Set yourself up for repeated failure, but at a small scale. More times than not, experiments fail. Design around a clear hypothesis and a precise understanding of what it will cost if things go badly. If the first part is done right, failure is unlikely to be absolute. Instead, it will teach valuable lessons that can be used to make improvements and be tested again.
  • 12. 10. Celebrate small wins A culture is defined by shared values, norms, rituals and behaviours, but it draws energy from a rhythm of catalysing experiences. Shine a bright light on experiments that work, at any stage, to help employees rally around a shared vision for where the business is headed. This could be an event, an exhibit, a video, or even a game. The bravest businesses treat failure in the same way, observing hard lessons learned well.