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The Alice Code: looking-glass thinking for innovators


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The Alice Code: looking-glass thinking for innovators

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A first stab at articulating my vision of Alice Code - a methodology, mindset and set of moves for innovation inspired by Lewis Carroll. Presented at the 150th anniversary of Through The Looking-glass conference in York.

A first stab at articulating my vision of Alice Code - a methodology, mindset and set of moves for innovation inspired by Lewis Carroll. Presented at the 150th anniversary of Through The Looking-glass conference in York.


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The Alice Code: looking-glass thinking for innovators

  1. 1. The Alice Code Looking-glass thinking for innovators Dr Nick Coates, C Space ATTL 150th Anniversary | York | 2021
  3. 3. 3 3 tips for building more curiosity into work Image: MAGNUM MINI
  4. 4. 4 3 tips for building more curiosity into work Image: ARMCHAIR & CIGAR ON THE GO
  6. 6. 6 Looking-glass Thinking ><<><<>> Translate Transpose Transplant Transform Transcend
  7. 7. 8 3 tips for building more curiosity into work THE ALICE CODE 01 METHOD 02 MINDSET 03 MOVES
  8. 8. 01 Looking-glass method
  9. 9. Snow melts from the edges, because that’s where it’s most exposed — Rita McGrath, Looking Round Corners
  10. 10. VOYAGE AND RETURN Through… and back again. Two related realities that in my mind represent the 2 faces of the innovation process: invention & implementation. Just as innovation requires pragmatic problem-solving, so invention demands lateral thought processes that our rational mind tends to crowd out. 11
  11. 11. 12 3 tips for building more curiosity into work OUTSIDE INSIDE
  12. 12. 02 Looking-glass mindset
  13. 13. 15 LOOKING-GLASS MINDSET Open to CURIOUS CONNECTIONS What if? Able to reframe & rewire reality. Lateral thinking & synectics. The Gnat
  14. 14. 16 LOOKING-GLASS MINDSET Up for SERIOUS PLAY Why not! Playing the game to its logical conclusion. Dogged. ‘If you say it’s a duck it’s a duck.’ Humpty Dumpty
  15. 15. 17 LOOKING-GLASS MINDSET Happy with IMPOSSIBLE THOUGHTS Let’s see… Comfortable to decouple “as is” and “could be” for as long as needed, to luxuriate in ambiguity and counterfactuals. The Red Queen
  16. 16. 03 Looking-glass moves
  18. 18. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 01 +/- ABSENCE ------------------- PRESENCE 02 <> TOPSY ------------------- TURVY 03 <<< FEELING ------------------- LOGIC 04 ~/^ REFLECT ------------------- CONNECT 05 +++ DREAMING ------------------- WAKING 20
  19. 19. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 01 ABSENCE ----------------------------------------------- PRESENCE 21 Alice is constantly confronted by the absence of familiar objects, characters and places. The looking-glass is a cipher for the liminal, the in-between of here and there, and of erasure. It invites us to think about what to keep and what to lose. It helps us overcome loss aversion. MUSIC Prince: When Doves Cry TEXT Perec: La Disparition TECH Apple: iPod (wheel) PRODUCT Coke Zero SERVICE Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing
  20. 20. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 01 ABSENCE ----------------------------------------------- PRESENCE “World Without…” SAMSUNG PHONE SWAP We worked with Samsung to figure out how to make allegiance to Apple less sticky. We all agreed that finding new insights meant doing things differently. The looking-glass part of our process was called “Phone Swap”, a deep (5-week) deprivation exercise where consumers were forced to give up their phones (with all their data) and switch platforms. Outcome: a new app (Samsung Smartswitch) that makes platform swapping a doddle. Blind spots are rife in business. 22
  21. 21. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 02 TOPSY ----------------------------------------------- TURVY Contrary logic is the defining feature through the looking glass. The chessboard embodies pairs, opposites, reversals and inversions. When Alice reaches the end and becomes queen an unlikely transformation is complete. Pick a rule and invert it. 23 MUSIC Bach: Crab Canon TEXT Pinter: Betrayal TECH Dyson: Airblade PRODUCT Polo Holes SERVICE IKEA self-assembly
  22. 22. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 02 TOPSY ----------------------------------------------- TURVY “Reverse Brainstorm” 24 REDEFINING LOYALTY A decade ago, travel loyalty programmes were as stale as stale can be. Where travel was exciting, points were boring. Working with GHA (the Global Hotel Alliance) we took that norm and turned it on its head. Instead of points, we built Discovery out of unique local experiences. No points in sight! 10 years later, we’re about to relaunch Discovery with a new inversion: rewards as good when you’re not travelling as when you are. Mirrors invert.
  23. 23. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 03 FEELING ----------------------------------------------- LOGIC Society often rewards emotional containment. But looking glass feelings are less continent. Through the looking glass characters express their feelings without ‘adult’ lids. The “background conversation” knows no moderation. Passion and frustration are powerful ingredients. 25 MUSIC Jacob Collier: Moon River TEXT Ginsberg: Howl TECH Spotify: Mood Search PRODUCT Prada trainers SERVICE Secret Cinema
  24. 24. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 03 FEELING ----------------------------------------------- LOGIC “Tantrums” VIRGIN HAPPY SOCKS Most business processes assume reasonable outcomes. Research is often rational. As are the internal hurdles which prioritise risk aversion. Creating space for open questions and emotional extremes is the gateway to solving the real issues. In our process, we encourage Tantrums (and the odd broken rattle…) We weren’t expecting Happy Socks, but frequent flyers found standard socks laughable. So Virgin made them standard. Blind spots are rife in business. 26
  25. 25. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 04 REFLECT ----------------------------------------------- CONNECT Mirrors can simultaneously reflect and distort. They can create strange new kaleidoscopic patterns. And the portmanteau approach – bread and butterflies and the other insects, not to mention all the Jabberwocky combined beasties - link directly to the synectics strand of innovation thinking. 27 MUSIC Beatles I Am The Walrus FILM Star Wars TECH Apple iPhone (3 in 1) PRODUCT Macha KitKat EXPERIENCE Cirque du Soleil
  26. 26. LOOKING GLASS TECHNIQUES 04 REFLECT ----------------------------------------------- CONNECT “Brand Swap” 28 APPLE GENIUS BAR Apple has created the most lucrative retail space on the planet, by not just taking control of its retail channels, but also the category rules. By switching up the codes and context, Apple redefined the store: from indoor trees to giant farmhouse-style tables. One of parallels Apple explored was best-in-class service. For customers it’s hospitality we need to emulate. The Genius Bar? A hotel concierge! Redefine by borrowing.
  27. 27. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 05 DREAMING ----------------------------------------------- WAKING In dreams rules are suspended. New forms become possible. The looking-glass represents a mental gateway: between the conscious and unconscious. We know that in-between waking and sleeping creative brain activity is high. Embrace the dreamstate. 29 MUSIC Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit TEXT Joyce: Finnegan’s Wake TECH Face ID airport check-in PRODUCT biomimicry SERVICE Airportr
  28. 28. LOOKING-GLASS MOVES 05 DREAMING ----------------------------------------------- WAKING “This is not a spoon” 30 THE HUMBLE POST-IT The 3M post-it is – like many other accidental innovations – the product of a repurposed failure. 3M employee Spencer Silver set out to create a superstrong adhesive for plane building. In stead an unusably weak product emerged. Two surprise features: peelability and reusability led to a new home for the adhesive when combined with another failed project to create a sticky bulletin board. Reframe failure as opportunity.
  29. 29. 31 3 tips for building more curiosity into work THE ALICE CODE 01 METHOD 02 MINDSET 03 MOVES
  30. 30. Thanks! Dr Nick Coates

Editor's Notes

  • Thanks Kiera. It’s a pleasure to be here. And also humbling. You’re all hard acts to follow.

    About me: NOT academic, though I did have a close shave (PhD), NOT an Alice scholar.
    I’m a practitioner, of innovation, and creativity, specialising in co-creation. My examples: Spotify mood search, new cruise ship brand just launched, storage products, apps…

    This is a simple - maybe simplistic - attempt to step through a mirror between these two worlds and see what happens.

    I’m not here to be reductive, to say that Alice is really just a handbook for innovation
    I am here to point out some parallels and intersections that I think could benefit both worlds: Alice studies and Innovation practice.

    In essence, Innovation needs more Alice. And Alice should recognise her contribution to innovation culture, not just cultural innovation

  • It was very controversial. How could something that is all about its "magnitude" now be miniaturised? "It's not a Magnum if it's Mini..."
    Key reframing / shift in brand thinking was from "magnitude" as a size thing to "magnitude" as an intensity thing. i.e. A Magnum is about "Intense Indulgence" rather than "Super-size Indulgence"...Key thing was to maintain the chunkiness / crunch of the chocolate in the mini format to deliver the same intense indulgence
    The more prosaic element of the whole business was that Unilever desperately wanted to get into In-home to challenge Mars with its Marsbar Icecream / Twix etc formats which were printing money for them, with Heartbrand missing out big time.
    But an Original Magnum was too big for In-Home where laws of permissibility are stricter vs when you're out and about.
    And there was the price point issue...Grocery retailers couldn't stomach a full-price Magnum, but UL didn't want to devalue the OOH brand.
    But a pack of 3 or 6 Mini Magnum was much more palatable for both consumers (persmissibility) and retailers (price point and lots of opportunity for price promo)
    Key lesson / principle of miniaturisation in FMCG: Don't just make a mini-version...the value exchange won't stack up. You have to switch up other elements of the mix whilst miniaturising (or maximising) adding or subtracting additional features and benefits...
  • Key lesson / principle of miniaturisation in FMCG: Don't just make a mini-version...the value exchange won't stack up. You have to switch up other elements of the mix whilst miniaturising (or maximising) adding or subtracting additional features and benefits...

    Here it’s the semiotics…..
  • To take a different kind of parallel, let’s remember the way that the best brands think about and are inspired to create new experiences…

    Have any of you ever spotted this parallel…?

    Well I was reassured to discover that Uber’s product briefs for developers include the benchmark “product magic”, i.e. using their app should feel like magic.

  • I’m starting to see the people and places in the Alice books as moves in what I’m calling the Alice Code. A language of imagining / reimagining that allows us to systematically and deliberately deconstruct and rebuild ideas (for new products, services, experiences).

    That means a few things in terms of a practice:
    1. A metaphor or parable about the creative process at it’s highest level, and a corrective to overly rational business processes
    2. A set of principles and language for innovators to remember how to think, how to be, how to collaborate

    3. A set of more tactical moves or ways into ideation and invention

    Let’s explore each of these levels briefly.

    A generative tool to turn banal workshops into wonderlands.
  • Remember that human risk aversion is deep seated and, in the case of businesses, often structurally enshrined through processes, incentives and culture.

    Businesses are organised to prioritise short term survival. They are often inward looking. They see customers as captives. But their survival requires foresight. Myopia blinds them to disruption. What’s round the corner.

    So I think businesses need wonderlands and rabbit holes to avoid disruption. They need to think more about adjacencies and worlds they didn’t previously consider because their categories are becoming what we call arenas. Which is why the enlightened ones create teams who get to think about the ‘fuzzy front end’
  • For me therefore it’s that boundary of the business that is the equivalent of the looking-glass. Piercing that boundary, entering into a new space, helps to achieve a few things:

    Defamiliarise the familiar (not fantasy)
    Destabilise the bonds of meaning and current logic
    So we can reassemble them
    See new possibilities
    Overcome what De Bono calls the “black hat”
  • Practical example: innovation workshops….

    Christmas in July is an extreme case, but it reminds us that people (colleagues as well as customers) aren’t walking around thinking (or feeling) about our agenda items. We need to make space and step one is to own the physical, mental and emotional space we workshop in. After all people aren’t thinking about Christmas in July. Fortunately I know a guy, Damo, who runs a Santa business. I gave him a call.

    Here’s what our workshop felt like. Christmasy. We even hired a professional Santa (and yes, this wasn’t his only July gig in case you’re wondering). We bust out the company Christmas tree. We built a fireplace. We had elves. We needed a playspace and it needed to feel different when you walked in. Not like a nightclub the day after when the lights have all been turned back on. With no music.
  • So that’s the method analogy of looking-glass world A journey, that combines method with madness
    A playful (game-like) process of exploration
    That suspends normal rules for long enough to envisage the new
  • But humans in this process need the right mindset
    I think Alice contains multiple lessons, but in terms of Looking Glass I just want to highlight 3…
  • Dalziel after John Tenniel, illustration for ‘Looking-glass insects’, in Lewis Carroll [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson], Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (London: Macmillan, 1871). Dalziel Archive Vol. XXVIII (1871), British Museum reg. no. 1913,0415.189, print no. 638. By Permission of the Trustees of The British Museum. All Rights Reserved © Sylph Editions, 2016
  • And so that’s it.
    A humble first step.
    An outline methodology.
    I welcome your reactions.
    And maybe help!
    Thank you