Entries in Luke Williams (1)


How to turn cliches into innovative thinking

I think of a cliché as a truth that’s reached its jump the shark moment.  It doesn’t mean that the cliché it isn’t true, but that it’s been so overused, we can’t discern the original truth from equally true incarnations of the idea.

Identifying clichés is one of the foundational paths to disruptive innovation.

In his new book Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable To Spark Transformation in Your Business, Luke Williams, shows how you can develop the habit of disruptive thinking by working through a five-stage process beginning with crafting a disruptive hypothesis.

Williams, a fellow at Frog Design, is a leading consultant and speaker specializing in disruptive thinking and innovation strategy.

‘A disruptive hypothesis is an intentionally unreasonable statement that gets your thinking flowing in a different direction,” says Williams. “ It’s kind of like the evolutionary biology theory of “punctuated equilibrium,” which states that evolution proceeds slowly and every once in a while is interrupted by sudden change.

Williams adds, “In our fast-changing world, when business certainties are no longer certain, the ability to imagine things as they never were and ask, “What if?,” is an essential part of every executive’s skill set.”

The goal is to start generating hypotheses that will enable you to radically reinterpret topics that everyone else in your industry has probably taken for granted.

One classic example is the Pompidou Center in Paris. “What would happen if we put the plumbing, electrical services, and air vents on the outside of a building instead of the inside?”  (Unconventionally attractive).

The same cliché busting method is what the advertising agency Chiat Day used to create what they call disruption day.   They catalogued virtually everything a company did to see what worked and what could be disrupted to the benefit of the company.

“The point is to get those tired truisms on the table so you can confront them later. Often, the more established and obvious the cliché, the greater the impact when it’s challenged.”

The multi-billion video gaming industry is a good example. Two giants dominated video consoles: Sony with its PlayStation and Microsoft with its Xbox.  Both were driven by several clichés.

“First, that the world is split into “gamers” and “nongamers.” Second, that gamers mostly care about faster chips and more realistic graphics. Third, game consoles are expensive. And fourth, that people play video games sitting down, barely moving anything but their fingers.

Then, Nintendo, a distant third player, turned the gaming industry’s clichés on their head. Nintendo’s Wii is relatively cheap, has no hard drive, no DVD, has weak connectivity, and comparatively low processor speed. But, within weeks of its launch, Wii became a hit with consumers, thanks to its innovative motion controller, which integrates players’ movements directly into the game.

“Wii killed the idea that a video game was something you played without breaking a sweat.”

Here are some of the disruptive thinking ideas, Williams recommends:

Make a list of your competitors and make a list of the clichés that keep everyone doing the same thing, competing the same way, or operating with the same set of assumptions.

Look at product clichés: What are the cliché features and benefits? What are the cliché product attributes that are advertised (convenience and reliability, for example)? Where are the cliché areas where the product competes (typical customers, typical geographies, and typical market size)?

Interaction clichés: What are the cliché steps a customer experiences when buying and consuming their products and services? Is the interaction face-to-face? How frequently do customers purchase or use? In the rental car business, for instance, the prevailing interaction clichés include the following: face-to-face interaction with a service agent, completing a lot of paperwork, and renting vehicles by the day.

Look at pricing clichés: What are the typical ways companies price their products and services and charge customers? Are they packaging products and services together or pricing them individually? Are they charging the customer directly or through a retail partner?

Are they offering discounts or other incentives? In the magazine industry, the dominant pricing paradigm is a subscription-sale model, whereby the magazines offer a hefty discount (often more than 50 percent off the cover price) for annual subscriptions.

For example, buying a subscription is 50 percent less than buying from a newsstand. Then, along comes a startup lifestyle magazine called Monocle, and instead of the traditional subscription-sale model, it created a subscription-premium model. The disruption? “Buying an annual subscription is 50 percent more than the cost of buying from a newsstand.” That high-priced subscription also gets you exclusive access to premium website content, signature products, social events, books, and audio programs. That high-priced subscription also gets you exclusive access to premium website content, signature products, social events, books, and audio programs. In its first year, the magazine’s circulation was already 150,000, and it’s currently sold in more than 50 countries.

You can call it cliché or current business practices, but the key is finding how you can think what no one else is thinking and deliver an unmet customer need. (Often, a need that even customers didn’t know they had.)

Thought Experiment:

This experiment only takes 5 minutes. Set your timer and write down as many clichés as you can about a competitor.  The product. The service.  The price. And the marketing. 

Then, simply pick one cliché you can trump. What can you do that they don’t?  This is the start of a disruptive hypothesis. Don’t worry about cost or viability – the goal is simply to begin a habit of disruptive thinking.

My thanks to Luke Williams for sharing.

Check out his book on Amazon: