Get Yourself A New Model

When I was being trained as an ‘Inventor’ – a job title which continues to give me a lot of pleasure – at the innovations consultancy WhatIf, it was drummed into us that ‘brainstorming’ was the lowest form of idea generation. Yes, you can throw a bunch of smart people into a room and see what they can pluck out of the ether, but it is a progressively inefficient technique. Not only are the ideas likely to be random, weak and derivative, but the participants – and I have heard this first-hand from teams that are required to churn ideas day-in, day-out – rapidly become jaded and creatively exhausted.

But the real weakness of brainstorming is that it encourages creative egotism. I took part in one session – professionally facilitated in a fair and even way –  where, at the end, we all voted for the ideas we wanted to develop further. After the dud ones had been culled, leaving a handful of post-its clinging to the whiteboard, one participant slumped into a chair and declared their disillusionment with the whole process. Their reason: “None of the ideas that are left are mine”!

Research indicates that innovation is not delivered via an individual’s Eureka-moment ‘inspiration’ but by groups of people combining existing notions into never-seen-before combinations.

Hybridisation is the name of the game.

It’s exactly the same when you are growing a business. Even in the unlikely event that your enterprise replicates another identically, it is highly improbable that it will follow the same path or pattern of growth. One thing you can be sure of as its leader is that, sooner or later, you will find yourself in unknown territory. And then you’ll be looking for a map, a template, a model that you can recognise and say – an audible note of relief in your voice – that’s where we are, that’s the shape we need to be. If only.

When you need a model of how to deal with an aspect of growth – a management structure; a set of processes; a new commercial model;  a business development strategy; an evolving org chart – it is unlikely to emerge from a brainstorm or any other ether-tapping technique. Nor, given the unique character of your business, will it come from importing an existing model lock, stock & barrel.

We’re back to hybridisation, the fundamental technique for creating new things. You need to mash up previous models to make a new one. It’s tricky to make a mash-up from a single piece of source material. So if the only model you really know is the one you’ve developed within this company, a company that needs a new one pretty damn quickly, then you simply don’t have the means to hand.  Scouring Amazon for business books and learning models secondhand in the comfort of your room doesn’t count.

You need to find a way to bring the experience of those models into your business, even if it’s just for a short while, so you can work the creative alchemy that makes new things from the clash of the old.

  1. Always a good read these Steve. Good for the brain, and a good tonic also. You should do this kind of stuff for a loving! 🙂

  2. digiogi said:

    Thanks, Mighty G. Living, loving, it’s all the same to me!

  3. Jon Humphreys said:

    Great post Steve and chimes well with a lot of the threads raised in Steven johnsons fabulous book Where Good Ideas Come From picks up on. What is less talked about I find is the art of synthesis. Putting it all together and making it work, where the real mastery comes into the situation which makes the difference between an idea/execution becoming more than a sim of its parts. It’s the difference between creating something beautiful and a Frankenstein mess. Chefs are great synthesists knowing exactly how to use their raw ingredients with the right balance to create something amazing. And this is often the part people get wrong, it isn’t often a combinatorial process, it’s done by individuals with a vision, great directors, great composers.. or in very small teams (2-3) who are so on the same page they practically finish each others sentences. Here’s a good example of great synthesis I came across this morning.

  4. digiogi said:

    Thank you very much, Jon, for taking the trouble to comment.

    Firstly, I’m having a teeny bit of trouble with your link, which takes me to a Guardian video entitled ‘How to wear a peplum’. Is this what you had in mind? Is the link broken? Or am I once again betraying my non-native digital status?

    Secondly, I want to respond to your thoughtful and informed comment. I agree that there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of discussion about how to do synthesis. You’re spot-on about chefs (oh, how I love a food analogy) and it’s the same deal with directors; the vision requires a synthesising mind to manage every detail and nuance – flavour, texture, colour/art direction, script, casting – whilst orchestrating them into an original and coherent whole.

    And yes, there are auteurs in business, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Creative businesses are more often founded and run by one of your ‘very small teams’. Naturally, they tend to be good at *creative* synthesis. It’s the other kinds that I feel are less common in business; combinatorial thinking about strategy, planning, business models, brand, processes and structure. It’s what I call ‘doing integration in your head’ and I spent a whole book (OK, only a small one) lamenting the lack of this in media planning when I worked in that industry.

    It’s four years on, and I’m still going on about it; I’ve just shifted my focus! I’m convinced it’s crucial. I don’t see how it’s possible to make anything properly in a digital environment (ie anywhere) without it.

  5. jon humphreys said:

    That shouldn’t be the link- here it is

  6. digiogi said:

    Ah, yes, much more relevant than “A short overskirt or ruffle attached at the waistline of a jacket, blouse, or dress”!

    Mash-up, mixing, DJ culture has led this area for several decades now, so it’s no surprise that the digital tools for combining musical elements to create new artefacts are advanced, sophisticated – and accessible (there’s a Kaoss Pad kicking around my house that gets used for a similar purpose)

  7. jon humphreys said:

    Great reply and certainly on the money in the context you talk about, strategy, planning etc. I think what I was getting at is to pick up on your observations about brainstorming and ideas generation- combinatorial thinking does indeed create more options to choose from, more chance of great hybrids to be created. But that filtration and synthesis stage, knowing what to leave in, what to cast aside, the shaping is surely a fundamental process that has importance whether we are talking about food, music, art or strategy. Its just that doing the whole thing from the ground up as individuals or very small teams (the auters or founders of small creative companies as in your example) is rare, unscalable and less rich in its potential.

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