Innovation as a vacation


Indiana Jones can teach us a thing or two about executing an innovation strategy. Every time he makes a wrong choice and another stepping stone falls into the fiery abyss he rebalances and tries again. If he hits a firm footing he moves on. If he gets it wrong, he repeats the process, but the one constant is that he knows where he’s going. Specifically in the short term and more broadly after that.

When he gets to safety it’s easy for his companions to follow his path. This is the story of innovators and fast followers, but that’s for another day.

Why a vacation? When you finally agree on a vacation destination (hard in our house), almost everything else falls into place: when you’ll go (in school holidays or outside to miss the crowds); how you’ll travel (fly); where you’ll park (take a cab to the airport); when you’ll leave to avoid traffic delays (stay overnight at the airport); how you’ll transfer from the airport to the hotel; what documentation, insurance and jabs you’ll need. You can even decide who goes with you and they can decide to say yes or no to your invitation based on their knowledge of the destination.

If anything happens between booking and departing, like travel advice not to visit that country, there’s time to course-correct and change the destination. Everything else probably stays the same: airport, passport, taxis…

I’ve used vacations as a simile before, but the comparison does a good job of breaking innovation strategy into bite-sized chunks. The important part is to know where we’re going. This is why we focus so much attention on reading the market and analysing the opportunities that will open up in the future. It’s a ‘What if?’ exercise with a twist. The twist is that the information that informs the scenarios we build is not easily read. Not because it’s impenetrable data but because it just isn’t in the brochure: it takes a lot of digging to find this information and you have to know where to dig.

And the ways we see the future opening up aren’t best viewed through the lens of experience. Our current terms of reference can’t be guaranteed to reveal the full impact of a trend on consumer behaviour. Not only do we need to see a different future, but we also need to shift the perspective we see it from. The trick is to get the right tour guide.

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