Thursday, 18 August 2011

Shopping for Delicious Opportunities

I’m amused. On the radio there was a joke about the fact that ‘the French riot to save their pensions, the Greeks against the ‘cuts’ and the British riot because they want new trainers.’ I’m confused – it doesn’t take much. In London and parts of the United Kingdom a large number of our citizens decided through their social networking connections to go shopping together, out of hours, without paying for anything. It took the police and authorities several days to get as coordinated as the instant message savvy citizens.

That’s not why I’m confused. I’m confused because, still listening to the radio, all the analysts and commentators continue to repeat the same sides of the same old arguments they had before the event, after the event as if there was nothing to be learnt from the event itself. One commentator concluded “As I’ve always said, the kids don’t have enough opportunities.’

Once a thinking pattern takes hold it’s almost impossible to shift. It’s largely because for our hunter/gatherer ancestors, the energy spent on coming up with an idea (remember the brain burns energy at nine times the rate of muscle) was so precious, that you had to stick to the idea and see it through. In those days seeing it through meant that your idea to break the coconut with a rock had to be developed and applied and and hopefully was delicious and replenished the energy originally invested in the idea.

If a group of people adopt the same thinking pattern over a period of time it’s harder to disprove the idea because the ones who haven’t tested it still buy-in and are waiting their turn. It makes it hard to persuade them that the idea doesn’t work. It’s common for shared thinking patterns to pass their sell-by date.

In the innovation space one of the strongest thinking patterns is to concentrate on the initial creative process. Divergence, convergence, open, social, insight led, design led, invention led visualised. But just consider, “What fraction of the ideas you have do you actually write down? 1 in 10? And of those, what fraction do you share with others in order to improve them? 1 in 20? And of those, what fraction do you actually line up the resources to explore? 1 in 14? Execute? Successfully? And the final customers love it and think it is suitably ‘delicious’ to replenish the time money and resource which you have invested in the idea? Strange to consider that if you follow ideas from the ‘sparq’ to making money or delivering societal benefit the ratio easily reaches 1:100,000! This pattern of thinking came from the advertising industry in the 1960’s where it was discovered that the more ideas you had the more you were likely to have a great one. And just one idea was enough. Unfortunately we live in the 2010’s. It’s different.

After almost four years of missed forecasts and worse unexpected surprises, the economists and analysts are getting shy. They are beginning to suspect that their thinking patterns are past their sell-by date. No sense stimulating motor car manufacture when your country doesn’t make motor cars or spending Keynesian dollars on construction which is all carried out by migrant workers. Having overtaken Nokia by surprise, Apple is now attempting to patent a “black glass square with rounded edges” in order to stave off their competition. The competition now know that there is a market for glass fronted devices. In our new 21st century world the pace is relentless, the events come at a blinding pace, and an opportunity once spotted is fallen upon by millions like a rugby scrum.

So, in short there are no longer opportunities. Sorry, the kids won’t have opportunities. Opportunities are recognisable and once they are recognised they have a short shelf-life. As innovators we’ve realised that instead we must create or discover possibilities, and then our real challenge is to transform those rapidly into our opportunities and then into a ‘delicious’ reality which is well worth the effort.