Ideas from the Inside. #17 #cong17

By David Gluckman.

David Gluckman #17 Ideas From The Inside

I’ve had the great good fortune to have spent 36 continuous years working as an outside consultant to the world’s largest alcoholic drinks company.  My job was to help them develop new brands.  I’ve been able to evolve practices and principles across that period that worked.  They’re worth sharing.

First, put aside all the jargon that pervades the ideas business like Japanese knotweed.  I don’t think I ever broke any paradigms.  (Well, I only discovered what a paradigm was last week.)  I didn’t deliberately think ‘outside the box’.  And for me, the word ‘innovation’ was about curing cancer or putting someone on Mars. It seemed too high-flown for I was doing.

There’s a great quote by a man called Richard Farson in his book ‘Whoever makes the most mistakes wins’:  “The best ideas aren’t hidden in shadowy recesses.  They’re right in front of us, hidden in plain sight.  Innovation seldom depends on discovering obscure or subtle elements but in seeing the obvious with fresh eyes.”

I wish I’d written that because it eloquently describes what I spent a lifetime trying to do.

There were some lessons learned that I am now trying to share with everyone I meet.  I had this great opportunity to work my way through the process, sometimes with pretty good results.  Here is what I’d like to pass on:

  1. After the first few years struggling in the shallows, I came to realise that the only way to solve a problem was to look for a single answer.  Anyone who is halfway competent at creating solutions can come up with a dozen answers to a brief.  My belief was that if you didn’t emerge with a single answer, you hadn’t solved the problem.
  2. It meant that we never entered into popularity contests where we used market research to help us decide which of a range of half-baked ideas we should go with.  We used research, but sparingly, to help iron out unforeseen glitches and optimise ideas. 
  3. Market research is a very crude tool and cannot easily cope with genuinely new ideas.  Consumers invariably like what they know, but often don’t know what they like.
  4. We were always able to control research expenditure – by doing it ourselves.  By doing my own research, I always knew when to stop.  That meant keeping expenditure reasonable.
  5. New brand development always worked better when it was commissioned by people at the top of the organisation.  They were only interested in WHAT and WHEN and never in HOW or BY WHAT PROCESS?  There is a tendency amongst mid-level marketing people to be preoccupied with methodology which (allegedly) eliminates failure.  It doesn’t.
  6. If people don’t know the answer to a brief when they see it, they probably didn’t understand the question.  If we aren’t smarter than the people who buy or use our products, we shouldn’t be working in the field.  The best clients I ever met could be sold a good idea off the back of an envelope.  
  7. Perhaps the most important lesson the business has taught me is that the real heroes in the business of ideas are the people who buy them. These are the corporate people who put their reputations and careers on the line.  Their risk was always far greater than mine. Buying ideas is a skill that maybe needs to be taught.
  8. And last, but by no means least, always look to deliver a significantly better product, whatever the category.

Vincent van Gogh was one of the greatest, most innovative artists who ever lived.  But he only sold two paintings.  But what if Charles Saatchi had been around in the 1880s?

So I don’t think I am here to offer a magic formula for infallible innovation.  I am advocating a state of mind.  I hope it helps


CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie