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12 Jun 2014

Secret to Creativity (Pt 2): Innovative Process and Taco Bell

Creativity - Finding The One Among Many

Innovative Process
Finding THE ONE
Among Many

A venture firm presented their search process. It began with examining about a 1,000 companies. Of those, they analyzed business plans from about 300. Only about a dozen received funding of which about half made money. Only one or two earn enough to make the effort worthwhile.

I recalled this presentation when I read Venessa Wong’s article, “Taco Bell’s Secret Recipe for New Products” (BloombergBusinessweek, May 29, 2014). She cites that Taco Bell reviews 4,000-4,500 ideas a year of which they test only 300-500 resulting in only 8-10 that make their national menu. As a case study, Wong chronicles their Waffle Taco.

When we commercialize creativity’s secret thus producing the innovative process, the core theme, the relentless, repetitive application of trial and err, remains intact. However, another introduces itself: casting a wide net and accepting disappointments. For instance, gold mining requires acceptance that 99.9999% of what we dig up is worthless dirt, and that’s for a good mine!

Implication for daily business is that if we shut down dissent, negativity and conflict, people will fear expressing sincere thoughts, thus constricting our net and retarding innovation and problem-solving. The price of innovation, of solving the problem of our improvement’s future origins, is accepting we will hear and experience things we don’t like, especially failure.

That’s means fighting the strong, natural inclination to associate with only those we like and with whom we agree. We don’t need to like or agree with people to benefit creatively and innovatively. Removing these people from our circles reduces access points and diversity. A million people holding the same idea still only represent one idea, a very poor parent of innovation.

Ships don’t sail with tightly closed sails. They must be wide and full with any wind they can catch.


Related post: Secret to Creativity


2 Responses

  1. You mention failure and “the relentless, repetitive application of trial and err” as important to creativity – and they are!! BUT to be really effective, we need to learn from these efforts or they are simply delays in our efforts. There must be learning from previous trials or efforts to serve as a guide to our next efforts. And of course, the more quickly we embrace the importance of risk in our efforts, the more quickly failure is likely to occur; and in turn, the more rapidly our learning / trial and err will yield creative outcomes.

    I’ve always argued / suggested that prototyping (trials) should occur as early in the process as possible (must include at least some of the key features of the envisioned “widget” of course – provide learning opportunities from assessing). I tend to believe it’s more effective in terms of time management to optimize a previous trial than to analyze / design a “better” prototype. But I have nothing more than anecdotal evidence that this is usually true; makes sense!!! Anyone know of documented studies???

    1. Mike Lehr

      You’re right about trial and err; we need to learn from each trial. I do believe that that’s an inherent assumption in the method if you review the link. Otherwise, as you rightly point out, the method is useless.

      In regard to prototyping, optimizing the trial versus designing a better prototype, can you elaborate on that? There is research suggesting prototypes provide inherent obstacles to the innovation process as psychological anchors (see Creative Innovation: Prototypes as Obstacles http://blog.omegazadvisors.com/?p=4194), so depending upon how you are defining optimizing relative to redesigning, it might have relevancy. I do know it’s best to try to learn as much as you can from a trial before attempting another one. Too often though, we are content with learning just one thing and making one adjustment at a time. There is not only concern for efficiencies by doing so, but many times individual aspects of trials are integrated and deserve analysis for their interplay before altering any and issuing another trial. Not doing so does lead to false conclusions about a trial and can lead to taking a false direction in the process that might not show until we’ve wasted time, money and resources.

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