Its funny. People are growling for “innovation” and yet when you offer true innovation all of a sudden there is this rush of air as a frenzied stampede leaves the room to try to quickly ground the innovation in the apparent safety of something derivative with the cry “You have to show it to us first” ringing out and thousands of dollars flowing into “research”. This is odd because the middle of that word INNOVATION is NOVA-from the Latin novus meaning new. NEW, as in you can’t see it yet because it’s N E W! You can’t reasonably ask people to tell you how much they love something they have never seen and can’t themselves imagine! If you could, EVERY movie would be a blockbuster and EVERY resort would be 100% occupied and EVERY new interactive game would have a half-billion subscribers because we would just go ask people to tell us what they want and then make it. It’s no accident that one of Steven Jobs’ innovation principals is “no focus groups”.
Hyperbole aside, there is, of course, a real value in understanding your audience. As anyone who has ever played music in a bar knows, opening with your Wyndham Hill set when the house is packed with over-the- road-truckers is usually a bad idea and can be downright dangerous. But, to really create requires that we-and our clients- know our audience reasonably well and then take the risk of the unknown. It is daunting and full of the fear of falling but without it there would never have been talking-pictures, frozen pizza, laptop computers, cell phones or Disneyland. Often misquoted and taken out of context, here is the complete quote from good old Nicolo Machiavelli about the thankless and dangerous task of the innovator:
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”
I wonder how he did with his clients? The answer we choose in our company is to keep pushing. We will lose a few but in the end, true innovation (not safely repainting the same old furniture a new color and pretending to innovate), is what creates true value. There are days though, when another quote comes to mind:
“Never try to teach a pig to sing. It will only frustrate you and annoy the pig.”