Batterii interviewed Rowan Gibson, an international bestselling author of three major books on business strategy and innovation, including “Rethinking The Future,” “Innovation to the Core,” and his latest, “The Four Lenses of Innovation.” Widely recognized as one of the world's foremost thought leaders on businesss innovation, Gibson told us the surprising knowledge he learned when looking back at the history of creativity and innovation, including what that means for brands today. Read on to discover the four common patterns found when analyzing hundreds of cases of innovation―and what happens when we see the world through these innovation lenses.
Batterii: You talk about how all employees can be innovators or creative problem solvers. Can you tell us more about that?
Rowan Gibson: There’s a pervasive myth that only certain kinds of people can be business innovators – individuals like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson or Elon Musk. And of course there’s no doubt that these are exceptional people.
But what if we could learn to think like they do? What if we could identify their perspectives or thinking patterns and then actually emulate them? What if we could reverse-engineer the mind of the innovator?Ever since the 1970s, scientists have been studying an approach to psychology that’s based on modeling the skills of exceptional people in an attempt to acquire those very same skills. It has been used extensively over the decades in a wide range of domains – such as sports, performing arts, business, and psychotherapy – to help people achieve levels of mastery or otherwise improve their lives. The fundamental premise of this approach is that every single human activity has an underlying structure to it, and if we can codify that structure then we can actually teach it so that it can be learned by others. What happens, then, if we examine the thought processes that lead people to big ideas? What can we conclude?
When we study hundreds of cases of successful innovation, a very interesting pattern begins to emerge. We find that, in case after case, the innovators came to their discoveries not by staring out the window waiting for a Eureka moment, but by looking at the world from a particular angle of view.
It was by seeing things differently that they were able to spot opportunities that were “hidden in plain sight” – inspiring insights that others were simply blind to. I like to think of these perspectives, or ways of seeing the world, as innovation lenses.
Batterii: Can you share these perspectives with us?
Rowan Gibson: Yes, there are four of them.
The first is called Challenging Orthodoxies. It’s the tendency to question and overturn common assumptions inside companies and across whole industries about how things are “supposed” to be done. Innovators never accept that there is only one “right” way of doing things. They take a contrarian stance. They are willing to challenge even the most deeply entrenched beliefs, and to explore new and perhaps highly unconventional answers.
Recall how James Dyson fundamentally reinvented the vacuum cleaner by asking why it needed a bag, and why it couldn’t be a sexy design statement instead of the ugliest thing in your home. Or how Tesla’s Elon Musk reconceived the automobile by challenging the conventional wisdom of Detroit’s seasoned executives about the viability of electric cars. Just over a decade later, every car company—and even Apple, too —is asking itself how it can learn from Musk’s playbook.
The second lens, or perspective, is called Harnessing Trends. Innovators are good at spotting patterns of change that could substantially change the rules of the game. They pay close attention to nascent trends and discontinuities that have the potential to profoundly impact the future of an industry – changes that others often ignore until it’s too late. Innovators make sure they are riding these waves of change rather than being washed away by them.
Consider Jeff Bezos, who saw the oncoming tsunami of e-commerce back in 1994, and rode that giant wave to great success with Amazon.com. Or Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, who realized that internet video streaming represented not just the future of the video rental business but the future of TV. Shifting his company’s whole business model from home DVD delivery to video on demand, Netflix has emerged as a winner, while Blockbuster Video has disappeared from the scene.
The third lens is Leveraging Resources. It’s about thinking of a company as a portfolio of skills and assets rather than as a provider of products or services for specific markets. Innovators look for ways to repurpose, redeploy, and recombine various resources to create exciting new growth opportunities.
Consider how Walt Disney – or the folks from ESPN – leveraged core competencies and strategic assets to build global entertainment empires. Or how Richard Branson turned a single record store in London, UK, into a conglomerate comprising over 400 companies in a range of different industries. Or how Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin stretched beyond search, expanding into productivity software, operating systems, hardware, self-driving cars, advanced robotics, and even life-extension technologies.
The fourth and final lens is almost the Holy Grail of innovation. It’s really about learning to live inside the customer’s skin, empathizing with unarticulated feelings and identifying unmet needs. Innovators put themselves in the customer’s shoes and are able to feel their “pain points.” Then they design solutions from the customer backward.
Nobody, for example, asked Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers - The founders of Nest Labs – for a smart, friendly thermostat that could learn and adapt to our behaviors. They simply set out to identify a common human frustration and then to solve it with an intelligent, cool appliance. Similarly, Gary and Diane Heavin, an entrepreneurial couple from Texas, recognized that traditional fitness clubs were not catering to the needs of women. So they decided to open Curves—a fitness franchise exclusively for women and managed by women. It became the fastest-growing franchise in history, and is now the largest fitness chain in the world.
Batterii: That’s great. And what do you then recommend intrapreneurs take away from all these examples?
Rowan Gibson: We can conclude that there are certain recurring thinking patterns that drive innovators to their game-changing ideas. There is a structure to their activities that can be codified and learned and then emulated. And that’s what “The 4 lenses of Innovation” are all about.
What we have here is a methodology for systematically looking at the world like the world’s best innovators do. I have used this methodology with thousands of people from dozens of industries in 61 countries around the world, and it’s just astounding how it works. I have seen people who never before considered themselves to be creative – people from functions like auditing or HR or engineering – coming up with the most brilliant ideas in these sessions. Some companies have already used The 4 Lenses to generate innovations worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And many organizations have taken the initiative to teach thousands of their employees the mindset and the skills of leading innovators. They are applying The 4 Lenses to turn innovation into an “all-the-time, everywhere” capability inside their corporate cultures and to successfully unlock the brainpower of their organizations.
Batterii: When it comes to innovation, for many brands, a lack of ideas is not the real problem. How can we continually improve our capacity to discover and recognize better insights?
Rowan Gibson: Ideas are just the front end of innovation. In fact, there’s a front end to the front end and that’s the insight part. Big, breakthrough ideas don’t just come to us out of the blue. They are always inspired by insights – new and penetrating understandings about a particular situation or problem. Insights are the raw material out of which big ideas are built.
That’s why we need The 4 Lenses – they represent a power tool for creative thinking that can dramatically improve our ability to discover new insights. But even if we get great insights and we use them to generate exciting new ideas, we have still achieved very little if we don’t have the capacity to act on these ideas.
Many companies think innovation is all about producing a lot of “light bulbs” – collecting hundreds of ideas from inside and outside the company in an effort to find a few winners. Of course, there’s nothing essentially wrong with that.
But if they lack the deep capability to take those ideas and put resources behind them and drive them from the mind to the market, then most of those flashes of brilliance will disappear into an organizational “black hole” and will likely never be seen again.
That’s why I have a lot of respect for a company like Procter & Gamble. They don’t just place a lot of importance on sourcing new insights and ideas from their internal and external ecosystems – which they do exceptionally well – they have also put a set of organizational systems in place to support and manage potentially valuable ideas through the entire innovation pipeline.
Their leaders are committed to finding and sponsoring new growth opportunities…They create cross-functional “innovation teams” with the talent, the authority and the resources to fast-track breakthrough ideas. They have “innovation boards” in each region and each major business unit, made up of senior staff who meet regularly to review ideas and projects, set goals, and allocate resources. They work directly with consumers to co-design new brands and new products, from the very earliest stages of ideation through to prototyping, development, qualification, and commercialization. They use a comprehensive set of metrics to continually measure the company’s innovation performance. In other words, they are working hard to build and maintain a fully-functional corporate innovation system both in their global and their local operations.
Since 2001, when P&G started with this approach, the company has unleashed a torrent of new value-creating products that have not only reshaped entire categories but also allowed P&G to more than double its global sales—as well as its market capitalization—in less than a decade.
Batterii: In your book, you looked back in time, before talking about how we can look to the future when it comes to innovation. Can you share what you learned with this approach?
Rowan Gibson: The European Renaissance of the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries was a remarkable period of history in which creativity and innovation truly flourished. I wanted to look back at this era to try to understand what could have unleashed such a torrent of new thinking. And what I found was that the cultural environment in Northern Italy particularly – where prominent artists, scientists, and philosophers came together and cross-pollinated ideas and insights from their various fields, disciplines, and cultures – was only one component in the innovation equation.
The other component was a fundamental change in outlook and perspectives that opened people’s minds to new ideas and opportunities. Let’s remember that prior to this point, Western Europe had been struggling for a thousand years through the “Dark Ages” – the long medieval period in which free thinking and progress had been stifled by the teachings and the authority of the church. But the new philosophy of humanism, which was central to Renaissance thinking, introduced fresh perspectives that emancipated the mind from medieval supernaturalism and became the fuel for creativity and innovation.
Here’s the truly exciting part. What I found when I looked back in time was that the innovators of that period were using exactly the same “4 Lenses of Innovation” that we identify when we study modern innovators. Again, let’s think about the lens called Challenging Orthodoxies – the contrarian tendency to question deeply entrenched beliefs and assumptions. Consider Galileo and Copernicus, who took conventional wisdom about astronomy and turned it on its head, arguing that it is actually the earth that revolves around the sun, not vice versa.
Then there’s Harnessing Trends – the propensity to recognize and harness nascent developments. The Renaissance period was an age of the new – a time when many emerging trends opened up exciting opportunities for innovators who were paying close attention. The third perspective, Leveraging Resources, played out in a big way back then, too. Renaissance innovators understood their limitless capacity for redeploying skills and assets in new ways, combinations, or contexts. Gutenberg, for example, redeployed a device that was commonly used in his day – the wooden wine press – by adapting it to printing.
Renaissance innovators also focused their attention on the fourth lens – understanding and then solving common frustrations and unmet needs. Consider Leonardo da Vinci, who conceptualized such things as a parachute, a car, a submarine, a hang glider, a diving suit, a helicopter, a calculator, and even floating shoes and stocks for walking on water. He recognized needs we didn’t even know we had, and designed solutions to address them.
These four mental perspectives were absolutely characteristic of the Renaissance mind-set. So what is important about “The 4 Lenses of Innovation” is that this is not about adopting a trendy new ideation methodology. It’s about developing the same perspectives that have driven creative thinking, technological progress, and innovation throughout human history—from the invention of fire, or the wheel, or cuneiform writing, to the creative achievements of classical antiquity, through to the innovations that ultimately shaped our modern world, such as the steam engine, the railway, electric power, the light bulb, the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, the television, the digital computer, the Internet, and the cellular phone.
There is a common signature to all of these solutions. Without exception, they were the result of either challenging conventional assumptions, exploiting a trend that was gaining momentum, using an existing skill or asset in a new way, or addressing a need that was going unmet. Or, in most cases, it was some combination of these four perspectives that led the innovators to their breakthroughs. Unpack any great example of innovation and you will see this very clearly for yourself.
About Rowan Gibson
Rowan Gibson is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on business innovation. He is the internationally bestselling author of three major books on business strategy and innovation, including “Rethinking The Future,” “Innovation to the Core,” and his latest, “The Four Lenses of Innovation.” “The Four Lenses” describes exactly how to reverse-engineer creative genius and make radical business innovation an everyday reality inside an organization. Gibson is one of the world’s most in-demand public speakers, addressing a long list of major organizations, including Accenture, Bayer, British Telecom, Coca-Cola, Credit Suisse, Dow Chemicals, Generali Group, Haier, Heinz, Henkel, IBM, Mars, Microsoft, Philips, P&G, Roche, Siemens, Steelcase, Telefonica and Volkswagen.
Drive New Perspectives & Creative Thinking On Your Team
In the "How to Innovate...Strategically" paper, Batterii examines how and when to use popular innovation approaches including Design-Driven, Lean Startup, Open Innovation and Crowdsourced Idea Management. In your quest to create better insights, build better ideas and design better products and services, the "How to Innovate...Strategically" paper is a must-read.