Innovation = work out where they’re going and get there first.

A man running with a briefcase at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport, get there first


The markets that you sell into don’t change radically overnight so, generally, there’s time to adapt your line-up as signals of change are picked up. As my old boss once said, “work out where they’re going and get there first.” Take a different view of the opportunity and you’re a visionary – maybe.

Market research tends to report signals of change after they’ve happened – and that’s all it can do, so it’s unfair to criticise it for that. It needs data, and data, by definition, is historical.

For the innovator, this isn’t particularly helpful. You can read my blog ‘New rules without new controls: signs of change from the internet’ to get a view on some major shifts in market structures.

Innovators need to be convinced that there is a need in the marketplace they can’t already see a solution for. This is where innovators focus: new solutions to move the needle for their end-users.

How people innovate depends on their situation. Solo operators can break through with a bit of luck and some support. There are very few examples of solo innovators who drove big ideas into the market. In fact, thinking about it, I can’t name one. Trevor Baylis was probably more of an inventor. Steve Jobs didn’t do it on his own. Elon Musk? Honestly, I’m not sure what we should call him. Ross Ulbricht? The jury has returned on that one but time will tell exactly what he started. What we can see is that success can be achieved by solo operators or companies who are prepared to bet on themselves.

A solo start-up is happy when the product makes it. Their measure of success is very different to the numbers required to make something a corporate success. Personal wealth is measured to a different order of magnitude to the kinds of numbers that make a difference at EBITDA level – but so are the levels of investment.

How convinced you are that your idea is a nailed-on success will influence the commitment.

In a company structure, it takes courage to risk being noticed for pitching an idea that flops in front of the management team. For the solopreneur, it could be the difference between living at home with mum and dad or having a place of their own.

The common denominator is what you are sure of.

I had a colleague once who is a professional forecaster. His mantra was often received with a smile, but he was quite sincere when he said he was “always certain, often wrong” when setting forecasts. He knows, as we all do, that if forecasts were made in situations outside business, they’d be called guesses. Companies with stats teams can create any data set you want.

What Marketers do with data is create a sales graph that looks like a hockey stick. What the innovator does with the data is the clever bit.

When you think you’ve seen a glimpse of an idea that could work, whether you’re a solo operator or sitting somewhere in the company organogram, the lens that you choose to see it through makes a difference to your level of confidence.

Use data and anyone can tell you why you’re wrong. Use data to extrapolate a view of the future that’s different to the way anyone else sees it, and you’re a visionary – maybe.

There are techniques for pulling people into your view of the future. It’s a way of testing an idea so that it succeeds or fails fast. room44’s workshops show you how Design Thinking can help you see the future that your competitors won’t.

Dates are available in September across our workshop portfolio.

Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.