I’d like to open with a story I only heard recently. It’s a story of how fragile and elusive great slices of genius can be. It’s a story of experimentation, iteration and collaboration. It’s a story of how innovation and transformation come as a happy bi-product of the pursuit of excellence. It’s the story of how the song ‘Hallelujah’ - one of the greatest songs ever recorded – came to be.
The song, Hallelujah, is widely considered to be one of the greatest ever written.
<tell the story>
What I find most interesting about this story is the indirect means in which this song – now so widely enjoyed and admired – came to be:
It was expansive and exploratory before it was focused (50, 60 or 70 verses Cohen coined in his pursuit of excellence. It brought in new voices (literally) but I mean, new perspectives along the way (Cohen, Kale, Buckley). Over time there was collaboration, experimentation, iteration. The song went backwards before it went forwards: after the record is released for the first time, Cohen continues to tinker and rewrites the first 3 verses… later Kale goes back to the original two verses and combines these with the 3 Cohen included in his Beacon Ballroom set. The skills, knowledge and experience are there – these are talented musicians, skilled at their craft and each bringing a different perspective and flair. And finally, their endeavours are fuelled by passion, autonomy, mastery. No one asked them to take on the song, they volunteered. They each saw its potential and went in the pursuit of excellence.
These qualities are the reason I’m telling you this story today. The song Hallelujah demonstrates how convoluted and unpredictable the route to genius can be. And I’m here to say I believe the route to innovation is similarly indirect and unpredictable…
Gladwell surmises “the art of experimental innovation is elusive’.
I have another word for it…
I have another word for it: Oblique. <CLICK TO BUILD>
Obliquity describes the process of achieving complex objectives indirectly. It’s explored at length by John Kay in his book of the same name and argues our goals are in fact best achieved indirectly.
I believe obliquity has an important role to play in our achieving our own slices of genius, or ‘innovation’.
Why? Because innovation is a tough ask…
Keith Sawyer, Group Genius “Innovation emerges from the bottom up, unpredictably and improvisationally, and it’s often only after the innovation has occurred that everyone realises what’s happened. The paradox is that innovation can’t be planned, it can’t be predicted; it has to be allowed to emerge” pg. 25
We can’t know if an idea will really work until it’s out there in the real world.
As these brands found out the hard way…
Sony Walkman, a landmark innovation for a small, portable device at a time when music players and sound-systems were only getting bigger.
Consumers said they didn’t need it, wouldn’t want it
Consversly, Sony Minidisc was lapped up in consumer groups… only to be brushed aside upon release, consumers finding favour with MP3s instead.
New Flavour? Yes Please! Said consumer testing… oh no wait, New Coke? I want the original.
Maybe not then.
Let’s not even get into the state of poll predictions vs. election results.
As these two exemplify, people are unpredictable. And as the examples we’ve just seen show, people can’t tell us what they need, they can’t even accurately tell us what they like!
Les Binet + Peter Field in Marketing proved this in their Marketing in the Era of Accountability work. <check> Using the IPA databank of campaign effectiveness studies, Binet and Field compared the performance of creative that had been pre-tested (put through consumer research before being finalized) with creative developed without the research. The evidence of the dataBANK showed that it is not only unreliable, but probably actually reduces effectiveness
SO: People can’t tell you what they want or even what they like. Can’t tell whether something you’re planning or an idea will be effective until it’s out there in the real world. As experienced by a whole host of well-known and innovative brands.
Couple this with the fact that…
V/O SLIDE ONLY
< EXPAND THIS POINT >Add oblilquity reference to recognizing the complexity and not trying to rationalize it.
Forbes: “In less than a generation we have shifted from libraries to Google searches, from landlines to cellphones, and from books and CDs to eBooks and streaming. This “new normal” was never declared on the front page of the newspapers. You and I learned it as we lived it.”
< EXPAND THIS POINT >Add oblilquity reference to recognizing the complexity and not trying to rationalize it.
As we’ve seen: - How people will respond to ideas is difficult if not impossible to predict before those ideas are out there in the world - That same world is changing: significantly + rapidly.
In this context, if you aim directly, linearly for innovation you’re likely to be setting yourself up for a fall…
As I think Torre Telefonica demonstrates nicely for me here…
Built 1993, designed to reflect the most innovative mobile phone of the time (pocket-sized) Issue: designing a permanent structure in the image of a rapidly changing technology. Innovation can’t be the end goal in itself because what it means to be innovative is constantly changing Direct route makes a mockery of Movistar’s mission to ‘deliver the best of technology to its customers’
Torre Telefonica’s issues could have been forecast but predicting the solution most likely couldn’t.
That’s why I believe…
…the real path to integrated innovation isn’t to aim for innovation – not as an end-goal, in itself. The real path to integrated innovation is to create the conditions for more innovative thinking and pursue excellence instead.
How does that work then?
We’ve established innovation is tough (more than creativity, more than invention) – it exists, it adds value and ideally more value than anyone else in the market. As such, it’s a higher order objective, like happinesss…
“Happiness is not achieved through the pursuit of happiness. The most profitable businesses are not the most profit-oriented. The wealthiest people are not those most assertive in the pursuit of wealth. The greatest paintings are not the most accurate representations of their subjects.”
Let’s expand on that -
The most profitable businesses are not the most profit-oriented E.G. The bank <check> who stated “all we make is money” and folded soon after.
“happiness is not achieved through the pursuit of happiness” Happiness cannot be achieved directly through the aggregate of pleasure-giving activities. E.G. Parenting
That’s why those companies we think of as the most innovative, don’t focus their mission or company mantra on innovation, they pursue excellence instead:
Tesla: to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. NB, Not if but when!
Skype: Be the fabric of real-time communication on the web. i.e. at the heart, intrinsically linked.
Google: to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Airbnb: Belong Anywhere – creating homes from home all over the world. Just earlier this week made use of their ‘disaster response tool’ using access to 3 million homes to offer free housing to refugees and anyone else who needs it in the event they are denied the ability to board a US-bound flight and are not their city/country of residence.
The key with oblique approaches is it’s not just about what you aim for but how you go about achieving it. The company has to create the right conditions, supported by the right structures that underpin the ambition in order to achieve excellence in a complex world.
John Kay cites a HBR case study which articulates the challenge rather nicely I think…
Obliquity case study: The Prelude Corporation, once the largest lobster producer in North America, sought to bring the techniques of modern management to the fishing industry. The case references its president Joseph S. Gaziano:
“The fishing industry now is just like the automobile industry was 60 years ago: 100 companies are going to come and go but we’ll be the General Motors (…) The technology and money required to fish off-shore are so great that the little guy can’t make out.”
Soon after the case was written the Prelude Corporation became insolvent. Moreover, it did so for entirely explicable reasons – which emerge from MacIntyre’s account:
You don’t’ make fish, you hunt it. Your success depends on the flair, skills and initiative of people who cannot be effectively supervised. The product of people who feel genuine commitment, who have acquired from the rest of the crew an understanding of and devotion to excellence in fishing, exceeds that achieved when the only aim is overridingly to satisfy as profitably as possible some market’s desire for fish.”
This highlights the importance of culture – what people do when no one is looking.
Like the fishing example, the majority of us work in businesses that are not task-oriented but require cognitive skill, or ‘flair’ we’re not making opportunities but hunting them and those people standing alongside us in our teams whom we rely on to deliver our products and services cannot be effectively supervised at all times and nor should they be. The role of leaders in an organization is to set the agenda underpinned by the ambitions and values that will lead there.
In the pursuit of excellence in a world that’s constantly changing, it’s the responsibility of company leaders to set the ambition and the direction and create the conditions for more innovative thinking. Because companies don’t have ideas. People do..
I believe those conditions lie in: < INSERT SLIDE WITH TEXT BELOW, SEE ALSO BOX DIAGRAM > Over-arching purpose Management style Individual expertise Group dynamics Types of Interaction Aligned Values .
I will explore what innovation demands, the implications and example applications of how they could be delivered in business.
A leader’s responsibility is to orient the company around the problem their company is on a mission to solve then create the conditions that will best enable the solution
In the pursuit of excellence in a world that’s constantly changing, it’s the responsibility of company leaders to fight against Shirky’s Principle < QUOTE BELOW ON SCREEN> “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”
Rather than finding new ways to add more value to customers than anyone else, businesses often succomb to the principle and spend their energies trying to maintain the status quo.
Business leaders need to orient the business around problems to be solved, jobs to be done and ways to add more value than anyone else.
It’s the role of business leaders to shift mindset of the organization + promote thinking differently. Ah these responses to the flower brief have done…
Remember in John Kay’s point: ‘the greatest paintings aren’t the most accurate representations of their subject’?
<V/O text from book re: flowers brief > How will they be memorable?
Here are some responses to the challenge…
+ 1 liner
+ 1 liner
+ 1 liner
+ 1 liner
…of being memorable.
Ask youself: What is the real value you are bringing to your customers? What is the problem your organization is trying to solve?
Autonomy is necessary for creativity:
Google’s HR boss, Lazslo Bock says in his new book “Work Rules”, “the most talented and creative people can’t be forced to work.” As an explanation for the company’s lack of enforcement and apparent move away from its famous 20% role (the allocation of 1 day per week on projects that could be of value to the company. Instead Lazslo claims, it’s the idea behind it that’s the most important.
Not only is it necessary but it’s also highly motivating: Letting people take control of their own lives as a means of engaging them cited as a core driver of motivating people to do cognitively demanding tasks in Dan Pink’s research behind ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth Behind What Motivates people’
The ambition without the step-by-step, direct approach underpinning it is very much in tune with the oblique way of working.
Enabling a fluid an integrated approach.
In this sense, pigeon-holing specific days of week or a week in the year doesn’t do justice to the overall ambition to pursue and deliver excellence.
Similarly the ‘Innovation Labs’ approach can risk an ‘it’s for them to do’ attitude. Instead, need the creativity of everyone.
So how to engage and mobilise people into action?
The key is to manage the paradox between establishing a goal that provides a focus for the team – just enough of one so that the team members can tell when they’ve move closer to a solution but one that’s open ended enough to allow for problem-solving creativity to emerge (pg 45 Group Genius).
Ambitious language linked to purpose. Goals should be appropriately ambitious and tie directly into the company’s purpose and vision. Scoping out broad opportunities whereby the role of the individual is considered through the lens of ‘adding more value to customers than anyone else’.
Remember, language matters! Scaling back the ambition, down-sizing the actions to fit a process is a recipe for mediocrity. It’s one of the reasons companies struggle with too many small initiatives and not enough big ones.
THE BEST piece of advice ever given was by the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch to the young Richard Avedon, destined to become of the world’s great photographers
Permission not to ask permission (Q. how far can you take this? Give budget for change instead of recruiting for change ?)
Tools to empower access to resource i.e. who and what they need to achieve the task e.g. DAN directory e.g. Office 365 Delve.
Be prepared to revisit, revise and iterate. Given the complexity and rapidity of change, set in stone annual objectives are incongruent. Similarly, thought should be given to shorter term behaviours vs. longer term endeavours with appropriate timescales to unleash change.
Ask someone who doesn’t’ know the ropes to ‘astonish you’ is likely to lead to chaos, if not distaster. Innovation demands depth of expertise.
Picasso:“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist” It’s only by understanding best practice, constraints and limitations of what’s possible that you can begin to explore alternative solutions and new ways in. Depth of expertise and solid foundations are necessary components of innovative thinking. Also motivating: We like to get better at things – it’s human nature.
So how can we instill a depth of expertise throughout the individuals in our companies..?
Issue: Can be both costly to the employer and under-utilised by the employees. You need a strategy that reflects your ambition and elevates the company’s literal and emotional commitment to training. Strategy is the choiceful allocation of finite resources for achieving your goal
Consider the following as potential routes in…
Co-funded training scheme: Dan Pink in ‘Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us’ that money is no motivator for cognitively demanding tasks so long as you’re paying people enough. Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose are key. Instead of innovation bonus co-invest money as a motivational driver to help ambitious people do what they strive to do – get better at things.
Proprietary assets Such a commitment by employees demands an equal or greater dedication to excellence from the company… Proprietary training assets, industry accreditation.
Walking the walk as Tesla does. Make training your recruitment strategy
So the story goes, a father is clearing out his desk drawers in the office at home and comes across this… < INSERT FLOPPY DISC PHOTO > …to which is son exclaims. Wow Dad, you 3D printed the save icon!”
We are each subject to our own unique way of seeing the world, thanks to our individual experiences and frames of reference. Given breakthrough ideas are often novel combinations of existing concepts or properties, it’s not great leap of faith to see the value in bringing groups together in a bid for more innovative thinking
Kevin Sawyer wrote an entire book - Group Genius – on it, in which he states, “Groups are effective because they bring together far more concepts and bodies of knowledge than any one person can.” But importantly…
“Group Genius can only happen if the brains in the team don’t contain the same stuff.”
Musicians often bring in new artists to work alongside or producers to bring a fresh perspective and oversee the integration of a new sound or direction.
Bowie worked with well-known Nile Rogers as his producer for legendary album ‘Let’s Dance’. The producer is credited from taking what’s described as more of a ‘folk song’ and transforming it into the dance hit so many of us know and love.
Prince was rumoured to take this a step further, bringing in an entirely different crew for each tour – that’s every 6 months to a year - to keep things fresh, everyone eager and on their toes.
Contrast this with a band like Status Quo – by name and in latter years by nature – who sought loyalty over novelty and consistently toured with the same crew to deliver the expected quality output..
So how can we go about bringing diverse perspectives and differences of opinion together in the workplace?
< INSERT 3 BULLET POINTS THAT BUILD WITH CLICKER: DIVERSIFY RECRUITMENT: V/O To ensure different perspectives are encountered on a daily basis. STRUCTURED COLLABORATION V/O To generate the space for new collaborations on an on-going basis REGULAR TEAM REFRESHES > V/O More radical: Actively disbanding teams in their entirety or significantly altering their composition through reallocation of talent.
Diversify recruitment The need for corporate diversity gets a lot of press as we strive for greater equality in the workplace, and rightly so! Particularly in an industry such as advertising, dominated by white men. Yet, not often enough is diversity recognised for what it really is – an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. For breakthrough ideas ‘diversity’ applies in all senses – not just gender and ethnicity but also age, industry experience, ways of working and ways of thinking. Therefore: Look in different places + ask different questions < PUT THESE ON SCREEN > Ask: How are you encouraging new voices to enter your organization? Are you looking in the right places? And asking the right questions? For example, do young people come from school equipped with the skills you’re looking for or do you need to reframe how you go about looking for them? < reference DAN School CODE initiative and fortysix recruitment approach designed to create a level playing field for wide range of backgrounds and experience levels >
Create structured collaboration Complimentary pairing of strategic thinkers. Ref: Creative agencies e.g. big picture thinker & detail-oriented planner e.g. ROI driven client & big award winning ideas – account person e.g. Long lead-times campaign planners with tactical, reactive planners.
Regular team refreshes Kevin Sawyer: “After 2 or 3 years, members of groups can become too familiar with each other and their effectiveness starts to decrease (…) no surprises are left (…) the group usually breaks up because its members want to find new challenges elsewhere.”
Don’t back and wait for turnover to take it’s natural course. Actively intervene to orchestrate the optimal team skillsets and make it known that refreshes are linked to optimal group performance not a reflection of individual performance.
the real influencers of an organization are the network nodes: the people who most often intersect with the most people.
There’s the old adage, it’s not what you know it’s who you know. We’ve established what you know it critical but to multiply and maximize effect, it becomes about who you know or even more generally – who you interact with.
Work at MIT has quantified this. Alex Pentland’s team tracked the patterns of communication of teams in a wide range of organizations from hospitals to banks to call centers. They discovered that (…) What happened between people — not just at meetings but in casual conversations, brief exchanges in the hallway, at the water cooler — made a measurable difference in productivity. In fact, those patterns of interaction were as important as everything else (individual intelligence, skill, personality, the contents of discussion) combined!
Enabling more conversations i.e. making time to chat
The Swedes have ‘Fika’ < SWEDISH FIKA IMAGE: COFFEE + PASTRY:> "Fika is the moment that you make time to take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it."
We have biscuit break! < SWEDISH FIKA IMAGE: COFFEE + PASTRY:> Potentially losing some of the essence of ‘slow appreciation’ and definitely inferior on the dedicated pastry-making front, it is nonetheless time that is in everyone’s diaries, an opportunity to down tools, come together, converse with people you otherwise wouldn’t get the time to, share stories you wouldn’t otherwise hear. And that’s how relationships are built, through the little things. Trust, familiarity and connections are built over time.
Enabling different conversations Relocation < TITLE: RELOCATION. IMAGE: ELVIS HAS LEAVING THE BUILDING ? or VERY MUCH AN ODD-ONE-OUT GROUP STYLE SHOT WHERE SOMEONE CLEARLY DOESN’T FIT IN BUT GETTING ON LIKE A HOUSE ON FIRE>
When seeking new conversations, proximity is key. We naturally connect with those in our surroundings so when looking to have new conversations consider your options for new surroundings. Are there people outside of your organization whom are critical to your success in achieving excellence? Be they your customers, your suppliers or the clients you’re seeking to impress – can you put a value on being closer to and having more conversations with them? Probably not. So relocate! Find opportunities to work remotely alongside key partners. Or better still, job-swap! Immerse yourself in a new culture and have new conversations.
“Creativity emerges from high productivity”
Flow occurs when the goal is clear and where there is constant and immediate feedback.
Pixar is one company that’s done better than most at predicting what people will like – out there in the real world. Following the huge success story that was Toy Story in 1995 followed consistently with box office hit after box office hit. Their creative process is at the heart of their success and one key component of this are the constant critiques and healthy doses of ‘mega-criticism’ even the upper eschelons of management open themselves up to as they ruthlessly ‘shred’ eachframe.
Director of Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich, says “We know screw ups are an essential part of making something good. That’s why our goal is to screw up as fast as possible”.
SO WHAT ?! AWARDS WHO CARES ?! AWARDS
How will you implement these into your organisations to create the conditions for innovation and pursue excellence?
Whatever you take or leave from this discussion, I hope we all create the conditions for more hallelujah moments more often.
Grace Letley - Vizeum
T H E R E A L PAT H TO
I N T E G R AT E D I N N O VAT I O N
G R A C E L E T L E Y
S T R A T E G I C I N N O V A T I O N D I R E C T O R
V I Z E U M
OF ONE OF
THE EVOLUTION OF
‘THE ART OF
“Happiness is not achieved through the
pursuit of happiness.
The most profitable businesses are not the
The greatest paintings are not the most
accurate representations of their subjects.”
“You don’t make fish, you hunt it. Your success depends on the flair,
skills and initiative of people who cannot be effectively
The product of people who feel genuine commitment, who have
acquired from the rest of the crew an understanding of and
devotion to excellence in fishing, exceeds that achieved when the
only aim is overridingly to satisfy as profitably as possible some
market’s desire for fish.”
MANAGEMENT INDIVIDUAL GROUP
MANAGEMENT INDIVIDUAL GROUP INTERACTIONS VALUES
“The process in which well-defined objectives are broken
down into specific states and actions whose progress can be
monitored and measured is not the reality of how people find
fulfillment in their lives, create great art, establish societies or
build good businesses.”
John Kay, Obliquity
THE BEST piece of advice ever given was by
the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey
Brodovitch to the young Richard Avedon,
destined to become of the world’s great
The advice was simple:
Bear those words in mind, and
whatever you do will be creative
Whatever you think, think the
Paul Arden, 2006
• PERMISSION NOT TO
• TOOLS TO EMPOWER
ACCESS TO RESOURCE
• REVISIT, REVISE,
“What happened between people — not just at meetings but in casual
conversations, brief exchanges in the hallway, at the water cooler —
made a measurable difference in productivity.
In fact, those patterns of interaction were as important as everything
else (individual intelligence, skill, personality, the contents of
MIT (Massachsetts Institute of Technology)
• OPEN CRITIQUES
• AWARDS YOU CAN LEARN
MANAGEMENT INDIVIDUAL GROUP INTERACTIONS VALUES
PURPOSE: PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE
ADDING MORE VALUE TO CONSUMERS THAN ANYONE ELSE