Packaging News, June 2012
This is a true story. Once upon a time, back in 1939, an advertising executive called Alex.F.Osborn noticed that the junior members of his creative team were not contributing much in meetings. To help them he devised a set of informal rules for meetings to encourage participation. In what seemed like a really wizard wheeze he elaborated on his idea and published an improving book called Applied Imagination in 1953. Now you can’t write a very big book based on a few rules, so the rules were expanded to become a new methodology making it a nice fat expensive book, and on the cover were magnificent claims about its ability to significantly improve your creativity. It needed a catchy title so he minted a shiny new name for it. The book sold like hot cakes and seventy years later Brainstorming is still, by a very large measure, the mainstream technique for the innovation business.
This was great for Alex, he made money and became famous amongst his peers, but Brainstorming doesn’t actually work-never has, never will. This has been proven many times in independent academic research into the technique, but that is as effective as telling Cameroon and Clog that their days are numbered. It might be true, but it is amazing how effective sticking your fingers in your ears and singing “la la la” can be. The innovation industry is locked into a broken paradigm based on a faulty premise.
We always suspected this was the case and so a few years back I began a study of truly innovative companies including Apple, BMW, Dyson, Nespresso, Space X to name a few. Several surprises came out of the study. Firstly, by a very large margin most of the literature focuses on the guru’s who created the companies. The argument is that these are exceptionally visionary and talented people, without which nothing would have happened. We all love our hero inventors, especially we Brits, but this information is meaningless and does not inform us about what these companies do. So we decided to look at it another way. We asked ourselves what actions do these companies take?
This is where we had a huge surprise.
Consider our list again-it covers Coffee all the way through to Aerospace. It covers really radical thinking-in 2006 Space X were a tiny company who had still had to fly a single rocket. Last week they successfully berthed their seven man spacecraft at the ISS. Their system was seventy times cheaper to develop that the Shuttle and each launch costs a tenth of the cost of the Shuttle. After thirty years of expensive stagnation space is now open for business. So you can share my shock when it became evident that each company followed a more or less identical rule set. It is, as you might expect, radically different to a conventional company, but with one or two nuances they operate essentially the same way.
And the rule set is very simple and anyone can understand it and apply it.
However, Alex.F.Osborn was not entirely mad. Like him, I am going to write a book about it.
An article from Packaging News ‘Tools for creating ideas’ by Steve Kelsey, June 2012