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Ask these to be more innovative today

be more innovative today

Have you ever wondered how some people can come up with the greatest ideas for innovation and we're still stuck with figuring out how to make mobile technology work for us? Aren't you astonished that some companies can come up with the wildest ideas that even make a brand new market, when we are still eating the scraps off ours? For example, Motorola engineers thought to unplug the telephone from the wall and made it mobile at a time when no one could even contemplate what a mobile phone was about! Many people ridiculed them, but they stuck to their guns and revolutionised the industry, creating what is one of the most ubiquitous apparatus today. In fact, in some African countries, mobile phone credits are used as modes of payment. (Read the Economist article: Airtime is money) (It is a wonder that Motorola is not sitting atop the industry they created, but that is the subject of another discussion!)

What makes the likes of these people different from us? How can they achieve so many big things when we are still struggling with the small? Well, the good news is, we can all come up with the big things, and the better news is, it is not difficult. Here are 6 questions, as compiled by Guy Kawasaki in his book, The Art of the Start 2.0, which I have found to be excellent in shifting our focus away from the small stuff onto the bigger ones, and to be more innovative TODAY:

1. Therefore, what?

2. Wouldn't it be interesting?

3. Isn't there a better way?

4. Why is our company not doing this?

5. It's possible, so why don't we do it?

6. Where is the market leader weak?

Read on as we uncover each of these questions, and I will leave you with a real humdinger of a question at the end of this article...

1. Therefore, what?

This is a very simple yet profound, question that leaves short-term thinking people stumped. "Therefore, what...?" forces us to think beyond the current trends and find solutions for the future. Remember, innovation needs to be future-focused. Spot a trend and ask "Therefore, what...?" will open up whole new possibilities for us. For example, it is not surprising that Singapore is going to open its immigration gates in the next couple of years. 6.9M is a given, ladies and gentlemen. People are bandying the 10M number already. So, there will be more people in Singapore. Therefore, what? There might be a feeling of claustrophobia, as we already see in the trains and buses. There is also a prevalence of smaller family sizes, and a growing movement for tiny houses in the US. This will probably come to Singapore in the next 8 to 10 years. Therefore, what? Well, we can start building shoebox units once again, but

shoebox apartment; photo credit:

making the surrounding space bigger. This will not give the feeling of claustrophobia that is often associated with such housing projects. This turns our design thinking on its head - from building large units tightly squeezed together, to building small units, nicely spaced apart. Something to think about, perhaps? Therefore, what...?

2. Wouldn't it be interesting?

In 1990, Jay Sorensen was a down-and-out real estate salesman. He made a total of one sale for the year and was living on the edge of his means. He had to come up with something to bring home the bacon. Back then, Starbucks had just opened a coffee joint in his hometown, and he noticed that the people who were buying it to go had to hold onto the cup by gingerly gripping the lip and the base. And the coffee joint across the road from Starbucks was handing out their coffee takeaways wrapped with some paper towel (you remember that, don't you?) A personal coffee accident, where the coffee slipped from the paper towel, and spilled hot coffee on his lap while driving (that's why you should never drink and drive!!), caused Sorensen to ask if there was another way of holding onto coffee (see #3). As it turned out, he returned to the paper towel solution and asked, "Wouldn't it be interesting if the paper towel stuck to the cup?" And this was born the Java Jacket, the corrugated cardboard

Photo credit: By Nirzar - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

sleeve which provides traction and insulates against the heat of the coffee, and which we now see adorned on all coffee cup takeaways. This question takes a current solution and extends it to solve a bigger problem, by postulating a great outcome. Wouldn't it be interesting if we kept on asking ourselves "Wouldn't it be interesting?"

3. Isn't there a better way?

Photo credit: By Will Merydith - Flickr: $40 later ... well played Rainbow Loom, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Great ideas are already all around us, and all it takes is a curious big thinker to see the potential that a small thinker cannot. You probably wouldn't recognise the name Ng Cheong Choon. But do you know the Rainbow Loom? Yes, that toy that got all our pre-teens busy with making multi-coloured rubber band bracelets for family and friends. The fad has died a little, but in 2013, it was all the rage and won Ng the prize of Top 3 toys in 2013 by Cyber Monday Awards, and Google confirmed this to be the top searched toy item in 2013! How did it come about? Well, it happens that Ng's daughters were trying to make rubber band bracelets, and were trying to link them together with great difficulty. So he asked, "Isn't there a better way to link all these rubber bands together so that they don't fall apart?" So this got him designing a push pin loom which his daughters could use to link the rubber bands together. It was so successful that his daughters' friends were coming over to make bracelets after school. So this caught on, and got him on a quest to design and patent the Rainbow Loom, and turned him into a multi-millionaire in a few short years! Not bad for one who simply wanted to make things easier for his daughters! Read Ng's story here. So keep asking, "Isn't there a better way?"

4. Why is our company not doing this?

In the early 1970s, five IBM engineers in Germany were asked by a client to build them a specialised end-to-end software solution so that they could track the movement of materials, the project advancement, and link that to billing. When the engineers presented the idea to management, they were turned down, because the company was a computer hardware manufacturer, not a software company. So the five engineers resigned, and started a company called SAP and built that custom solution for the client (who funded the whole project!). Once they had an operating product, they then went around asking who else needed such a custom solution. Today, SAP is the biggest enterprise software company in the world. All it took to get there was to ask the question, "Why is our company not doing this?" In the course of your daily work, you get to see how other companies - competitors and non-competitors alike - are doing things in different ways, and there are opportunities to do things better by simply extending it to your company and asking, "Why is our company not doing this?" And if they decline, this can be a reason for taking your solution on the road yourself, as the five IBM engineers did!

5. It's possible, why don't we do it?

This should be the next rejoinder for the previous question, "It's possible, why don't we do it?" We already saw the effects of this with SAP. The iPhone came about this way as well. In 2003, Apple was having considerable success with their iPod. It was the biggest income generator for the company, much bigger than the computer division. Not only did it shake up the personal music industry which was started by Sony with its Walkman some two decades earlier, it created a whole new revolution. By then the mobile phone revolution had also taken off, and Nokia was the main player. Apple saw that the mobile phone was getting more and more penetration, and they realised that it would not be too difficult for someone to simply tack a music player onto their phone, and that had the potential to wipe out the iPod. So they asked, "Since it's possible, why don't we do it?" And this spawned Project Purple to develop the iPhone. One interesting side story... the people were initially fearful that the iPhone would cannibalise the iPod market, but it was something they had to do. However, that fear never materialised, and Apple came away with two very successful product lines, not one! So, if it is possible, we should be asking ourselves, "Why don't we do it?"

6. Where is the market leader weak?

Take a look around your industry. Identify the market leader. What do they do well? What are they weak at? Is there a business opportunity there? Let's end with the story of Slanket. Slanket was the original sleeved blanket before the cult product, Snuggie. The idea for the Slanket came when Gary Clegg was in his college dorm one very cold winter in 1994 and was watching TV. It was too cold to put out his hand to change the channel with the remote, and so he cut a hole in the blanket so that he could stick the remote out of it. Then he thought of the idea to put sleeves onto it, and so asked his mother to sew sleeves onto his blanket and this served him throughout his college years. After college, he realised that there was

photo credit: By David Shankbone - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

potential in the idea, and decided to patent it. The lawyers told him that it could be a design patent, not a product patent, because it was too generic. So Clegg decided that he would hit the market hard, for as long as the market leader was not looking, or not interested. He would do this until his market dried up. And so the Slanket was launched in 1998, and this earned him and his early-investor brother millions, before the big players came up with Snuggie. However, the Slanket is still here today, and Clegg is now in semi-retirement. Look out for opportunities by asking, "Where is the market leader weak?"

Look at it with a growth perspective

You will notice that all of these questions come with one prerequisite - that you are looking to make things better. Many people move around without seeing potential, and then ask the question, "Now why didn't I think of that?" when the simple solution was really staring them in the face in the first place! Could they have thought of it? Sure they could, but they didn't. This means that there are people who would be more predisposed to innovation, and others who would be followers of them. How do you know which are you? It boils down to having the growth perspective. If you go through life questioning how things work, pulling things apart to uncover their "secret sauce", or try to do things better, chances are you have the growth mindset. Mind you, none of the success stories in this article were successful the first time around. There were many obstacles to get them to where they are today, but they were able to overcome them through sheer drive, determination and the willingness to learn. This learning mindset sets successful people apart from the less successful ones. The road to success is paved with lessons to be learnt, and the one who picks all the lessons up is the one who will enjoy the fruits of these successes. So these questions will not do one any good, if one didn't have the growth mindset to start with. They will simply slide down the back like water to the duck.

So, do YOU have the the learning mindset? Do YOU have the growth perspective? Why not find out for yourself by doing our FREE growth mindset assessment? Just click on the button here, and follow the instructions...

sign up for FREE growth mindset assessment

The Humdinger of a Question

Oh yes...there is one more question, the real humdinger one I promised. This question was posed by Kawasaki, and it really goes to the heart of the value that your organisation brings to the market. This is something that will define all your actions in the company, in the business, in the market. And the question is...

"If your startup / business/ organisation did not exist, the world would be worse off because ________________ ."

(It is technically not a question, but....)

If you can come up with a great answer, then success might well be yours. If you cannot, then you might have to go back the the six questions above and make innovation work for you!

Happy answering!

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