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What I learnt about innovation from The Princess Bride

We learnt a lot from The Princess Bride  – that someone can be “only mostly dead”, to avoid all six?ngered sword ?ghters, and Andre the Giant’s acting prowess. ?

?However, one little phrase has proven particularly insightful for me and my work in innovation. One of the ?lm’s catchphrases is spoken by Vizzini, a Sicilian bandit. At any stage when he is surprised, he utters in a high-pitched voice – “Inconceivable.”?

?Five times he says this. The last time, however, he says it when something conceivable does happen. Inigo Montoya turns to him and says:? ?“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”?

?Vizzini language needed clarifying. “Inconceivable” means that no-one could imagine it could have happened. When he used it to describe conceivable events – he was cheapening the word, and was not re?ecting reality. And now we come to the word – “Innovation” It’s a word that has fast become marketing-hype, and is in danger of losing all meaning. Domino’s Pizza spouted their ‘game-changing’ innovations – and revealed new pizza toppings and square bases. A famous shoe brand changed the colour of their latest seller – and touted it as an innovative move. I remember walking with a client around their factory, and he mentioned every minor thing they had adapted in the previous year. After each description – he would pause, and then ask me, “Is that innovative?”?

?Halfway around, I realised this company was more interested in being seen as innovative than they were in being innovative. Innovation was a label they wanted to brand themselves with, rather than an action they were willing to pursue. This is akin to wanting to wear Active-Wear, but never exercise. It may seem like a quick ?x – but will never deliver in the long run. When you are unclear about what innovation means within your business – you will struggle to improve your innovation efforts. You will not be able to measure nor manage your innovation – and will struggle to be an adaptable market-leader in your industry. In my meetings with clients now, I begin by guiding them to clarify their de?nition. What do they mean when they talk about innovation??

?Are they talking about the development of new processes that will decrease the cost of production and increase pro?tability??

?Are they talking about new channels of engaging with their clients and new customers, to grow market share and speed??

?Are they talking about the addition of add-on products to develop their own ecosystem, generating a network of interlinked products??

?Are they talking about a new culture of ideation and prototyping??

?Are they talking about a new business model, to discover new opportunities for creating sustainable pro?t? Once the de?nition of innovation is clari?ed, the work of innovation can begin – and with a clearer focus, much clearer results are achieved.

Jeremy Suisted is the director of Creativate, a New Zealand-based innovation + design agency. He’s now offering clients the services of the Innovation360 Assessment, which analyses and benchmarks an organisation’s innovation in 16 different categories. More information is available by emailing [email protected].
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