Squeeze Your Lemon To See What Ideas Spring Out
“I pressed down on the mental accelerator. The old lemon throbbed fiercely. I got an idea,” P.G. Wodehouse.
The application of fresh ideas - that’s what innovation is all about. Finding them is often the easy part. Some of my best thoughts come to me on the way to work each day, but as I get to my desk it’s all too easy for my daily obligations to push these wonderful thoughts back in to my subconscious.
There is a big debate in psychology about the sophistication of our subconscious cognition. A paper by a Anthony Greenwald looks to answer the aptly named question: Is the unconscious dumb or smart? The result suggests that the unconscious mind has more sophisticated capacities than many have thought.
Organisations around the globe are working tirelessly to unlock their smarts as shareholders and consumers demand more. Coca-Cola, having seen a 25 per cent drop in net profit in 2014, seems to have its foot firmly pressed down on that mental accelerator. The company is responding with innovation in the face of the obesity crisis and with growing consumer concern about the evils of sugar.
It would be easy to say they should have responded quicker to the market environment to avert the company’s lowest profit recording in eight years. But meeting the challenges of disruptive change is never easy - even for organisations with extensive resources.
There are so many organisational factors that need to be right to help innovation succeed. Forbes’ 10 year study of the 526 public companies that are eligible for the Most Innovative Company list shows it’s rare for companies to reignite their innovative capabilities. The few that had increased their Innovation Premium are the companies who had introduced new management principles similar to those embraced by successful start-ups.
The small size of start-ups works to their advantage. Unencumbered by hierarchy, politics and layers of process, successful small businesses make mistakes, learn, overcome and make sound commercial decisions quickly. Flexibility and agility in competitive markets can mean the difference between being an innovator or being a follower.
But small businesses also possess a different kind of pressure. They need to survive and thrive, just like larger companies, but there is absolutely zero room for complacency as small failures can be absolute. Survival instincts are in full flow and those working in small businesses can see, hear, feel and smell victory or loss. It’s omnipresent.
When we started 12 Below we leveraged our experience and believed in our business model but it was those survival instincts that focused our thinking and prompted us to be courageous both strategically and creatively.
Everything was about the challenge and solving that challenge in the most commercially viable way. We needed to win. When companies want to innovate, they must answer some basic questions: Do we have the right resource? Do we have the the right process? Do we have the the right values? Do we have the right team?
But fundamentally they need to have the smarts to define what the right resources, processes, values and teams looks like in order to answer these questions. Companies need to be honest when evaluating their capability and delegate responsibility so the right teams who can act quickly, decisively and intelligently.
What we’ve learnt is that too much resource can hinder innovation. Too much process can stop you dead. Too many people in the team and too many decision makers means lots of opinions and the dilution of great ideas. As Mike Patton from Faith No More famously said “Indecision clouds my vision”. I’m pretty sure he also said “Surprise, you’re dead!”.
Innovation is born from necessity. It’s about survival. Big companies are now trying to replicate the management principles of start-ups with smaller teams who are able to make fast decisions. Small teams like 12 Below are focused on nothing but innovation and brand creation and have the ability to help companies who are looking to get a jump on the market.
As Michael Porter once said, “Innovation is the central issue of prosperity”. Companies need to keep innovating, not only for their shareholders, but also for the well being of society.
So, squeeze your lemons and see what ideas come out. Just remember not to let them slip back into your subconscious, as scientists are still yet to work out whether that’s dumb or smart.