“Be the bird” by Hamilton Mann


Didier Marlier

May 09, 2019

From Disruption to Engagement

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Hamilton Mann is the Group Director, Digital Marketing and Digital Transformation at Thales, an 80’000 people French multinational

I came across this article he recently wrote on the topic of innovation. The reason to republish it, with his consent, is that, exactly the same applies when it comes to Transformation, Change & Disruptive thinking. I really encourage you to read it to the end (although the last two § apply more to his current job than). It is intellectually compelling, counter-intuitive and thought provoking.

“Some innovative projects will become viable businesses. Most innovative projects won’t. There is no miraculous recipe. This being the case,

Many people assume that creating new ideas is the beginning.

Some start their business innovation journey by firstly calling for many ideas. In fact, many people assume that creating new ideas is the beginning of any business innovation funnel — Actually that’s not true. It is not the idea but the reason why you are looking for ideas that truly matters. I’m talking about solving problems that will have the potential to change destiny. I’m talking about solving problems that seem impossible to solve until someone does it. I’m talking about solving problems that will totally reinvent the market! That kind of problem. Projects fail when they are not solving a big customer problem. If you are not solving a large enough problem that you could globally serve with a scalable solution, you are not running with the big idea. That’s why the very first step of any innovation journey is about what you stand for, not because of the ideas, but because of the purpose you intent to pursue obsessively.

It’s not the idea that makes the idea, it’s the team.

You will have to define a strategy at a certain moment of time, while being able to navigate with no strategy for quite a long time. You will have to be able to set goals and then the resources needed, while being able to identify the immediate resources available and do things with what you have. You will have to determine the causes that will produce effects while above all being able to determine the possible effects of the given cause. You will have to know how to make decisions based on return on investment but first and foremost, you will need to make decisions based on return on loss. You will have to focus on forecasting the future but beforehand, you will have to focus on creating it. You will need to know how to study the market, while experimenting in-market. In short, you will have to focus on action before analysis. Some people are afraid that their idea can be stolen. I have never seen an idea run by itself. With all that it takes to innovate, it’s not the idea that makes the idea, it’s the team. Not the idea but the team is your most critical asset ever.

Business Innovation starts with a Roadmap with no Plan.

It may seem counter-intuitive but most innovative projects do not need a lot of money to get going. However, there is a resource without which the will to innovate is limited: a Holding Environment. If you remember having already been in an environment where you felt safe in dealing with particularly difficult issue or facing challenges that needed going beyond your own limits, then you have experienced what a Holding Environment is. It’s a culture that encourages people to make room for what seems uncontrollable, inconsistent, imprecise, unpredictable, challenging our everlasting need for control, consistency, accuracy and predictability that continuously leads us to strongly believe that all we think impossible really is. Business Innovation starts with no proven business models, roadmap with no plan, business plans with no revenue, cost and expenses with no margin and even Go-To-Market with no Market — One of the biggest obsessions is to find them. Chances are that none of the planned plans will guide you until then, but a Holding Environment will do.

Embracing that particular place: the Uncomfortable Zone.

The more you embrace diversity, the more you embrace the opportunity to “think different”. Embracing diversity is supposed to push you into that particular place where things are seen in many different angles than your preferred ones: the Uncomfortable Zone. Seeking to work with people who look like us, act like us, think like us, went through the same experiences as ours, over and over again, while expecting different results, is the definition of insanity. The more you connect with different people, thinking, experiences, background, etc., the more you increase the probability to think about doing things that others would never think to try: new business models, new value propositions, new product development, etc. Take risk to engage in conversations with people who are far from where you are. The diversity of ideas, voices, point of views and beliefs are an essential ingredient for creativity. It’s being regularly in contact with what seems different to us that gives us the opportunity to evolve, grow and develop completely new thought patterns, and finally create new things.

Fail Fast only makes sense to Learn Fast.

Thinking that the fear of failure prevents innovation is a shortcut. Everyone is afraid of failing. Everyone aims to succeed. More than the fear of failure, it is the desire for perfection in relation to a form a conformity, normality or standard, which paralyzes innovation. Many people make the underlying assumption that acceptance of the fear of failure is conditional on having some guarantees of success made possible by a certain level of knowledge. It is quite relevant when you need to exploit routes that already exists for driving existing business models. It is quite counterproductive when it comes to exploring routes that do not exist for discovering new business models. The will to innovate is incompatible with accepting failure only on condition of a certain level of knowledge. By doing so you are unintentionally promoting the prohibition of learning new things which is the very foundation of innovation. Those you recognize as having the required level of knowledge to be authorized to fail, will tend to strive for perfection for not losing their status. The level of knowledge that guarantee a certain success in innovation is neither marked, nor standardized— it is learnable only through tests — but fail fast only makes sense to learn fast.

Not the perfection, but the Speed.

In technology and business, the key to success is in the scientific process. While taking your idea to execution, you need to set a bold solution prototype tested with the customer, for the lowest possible cost. Make experimentation the Norm — The more experiments you do, the more likely you are to find a formula for success. That’s not the perfection of your outcomes but the speed of your execution that matters most. A recent research shows that some dinosaur embryos took twice as long as the birds eggs of similar sized to hatch. That long waiting period likely contributed to non-avian dinosaurs’ extinction about 65 million years ago, when a 6-mile-long (10 kilometers) asteroid slammed into Earth, the researchers said. As an analogy, it illustrates the vital importance of speed when it comes to the incubation period that is needed before to “hatch innovation eggs” to the market. Taking the time for perfection is a formidable competitive advantage in an established order that does not move, but becomes a poison in a unpredictable world where adaptation and speed are life-and-death conditions to innovation. Be the “bird”, not the “Dinosaur”.

Doing a lot more, doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done.

Fundamentally, existing businesses are designed to generate growth and profitability through existing business lines. Hence, the “business as usual” management focuses mainly on current operations putting the focus on developing operational skills for solving problems related primarily to the current operational performance — but not for starting to explore new potential competitive advantages areas that imply to move forward in a very high degree of uncertainty. Fundamentally, there is a conflict between the decisions that help drive the businesses of today, and those that will foster the invention of the businesses of tomorrow. As a result, there is often a significant imbalance, between the investments devoted to develop the businesses that secure the present in comparison to those aiming at taking the necessary bets to create new ones. However, just because you’re doing a lot more to exploit current business models, doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done for the long term. It means putting all one’s eggs in one basket, thinking that your existing business models are going to last forever. Paradoxically, not wanting to take risks is to take an even bigger one.

No innovation without progress no progress without transgression.

How many ongoing business projects are totally reinventing what existing line of businesses do while literally cutting the branch on which the current profitability and growth are based? How many ongoing business projects are basically adding a new promising growth and profitability engine to existing line of businesses? To do such a thing, you will have to stop asking for permission. Every innovation is a disobedience to a rule, a norm, a habit, a process, a way of doing things, an established thought, a belief system that the organization carries. If it were not the case, what you think would have already been done. Hence, during the innovation journey, it will be necessary to fight the syndrome of “know your place” which truly means “stay in your silo” or “it is not your job to take care of this” or “we’re not open for cooperation here!”. No innovation without progress, no progress without transgression, no transgression without disobedience, no disobedience without questioning, no questioning without risk. Get ready to have opponents. Innovation does not happen from what is agreed by consensus. As Winston Churchill has once said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something, sometime in your life”.

Better is not good enough – Different is better than better.

Wanting the best keeps us chained to the same old way of working. This forces us to think inside the box and take the rules of the competition for granted. In addition, being better is temporary. Nowadays, it is a fragile advantage that can be compromised in the short term by any competitors. Better is not good enough anymore — different is better than better. Seek to address brand new customers — your “non-customers”: those that are the stakeholders of your existing ones — those that are important for what your existing customers are trying to achieve — those that are not contributing to what your customers are trying to achieve but undoubtedly would influence their achievement. And beyond, let’s focus on what the existing markets has taken for granted and that would be eliminated, what no one has never offered would be created and which gain would be raised or friction would be reduced well below the known standard. In other words, if what you are doing is widely perceived as possible, then worry — there is very little chance that you are pursuing something innovative. But if what you do is widely perceived as impossible, that almost nobody agrees with you, that some industries make fun of you, take you down, and that even scientists are opposed to you, be reassured. Chances are you’re holding something.

Great experience leads to great products not the other way around.

The only things that matters is the experience that the customers and the users will live by hiring your solution to get their job done. If the customer’s experience is great — you’re doing great. If the customer’s experience is not great — you’re not doing great. It’s that simple. From the customer’s perspective, the experience is the product and it’s a powerful differentiator. Ignoring customers is the number one guarantee for killing your project. Do not spend too much time developing things without getting feedback from your expected customers. They are the ones who should be targeted in the first place. Make sure you spend enough time talking to them rather than wasting time developing features without getting feedback. Although these features may seem interesting at first glance. The worst things happen when you do not know what the customer/user really wants and needs. The only way to have an enthusiastic mass adoption is to get to know your users first.

The adoption equation: Network Benefits + Stand-alone Benefits – Price ≥ 0.

Some of the most profitable and successful companies are those that have adopted a digital platform model — a strategy consisting a company to allow two or more disparate groups (coming from other companies) to interact over a platform to co-create value. A platform, no matter what, must (1) reduce “search/access cost” of anything or, (2) reduce “transaction cost” of any kind or, (3) both. A platform must (1) target at least two customer’s segments hence having, (2) two different type of “job to be done” with, (3) common interests to interact each other. A platform must (1) bring together “core” functions and, (2) leave the freedom to others to build on it to do “more” functions, while, (3) preserving the interest of all parties overtime. A platform must (1) anchor, manage, make evolve governance rules to be followed by any of its participants, (2) be responsible for damage caused by its activity and/or any of its participants’ activities and, (3) foster an irreproachable level of transparency on the application of its rules – just like a sovereign state. A platform must (1) have a well-defined set of tactics to get the first customers’ segments targeted on board, (2) solving the adoption fundamental inequality equation: Network Benefits + Stand-alone Benefits – Price ≥ 0 while (3) being not only effective in the very short term but efficient in the long run.

Pitch the value, not the features.

Innovation is nothing else than a search challenge for Value. You can have the best tech-solution, if you do not have the ability to convince people that you came out with something they need (without daring to ask it), you will not be able to turn innovation into outstanding business results. The way you’re able to articulate and tell the purpose of what you’re doing is a differentiator in itself! Pitch the value, not the features. It needs to be clear how your value proposition will challenge existing rules of the game by providing game-changing value through attributes such as easy access to information, self-actualization, self-creation, personalization, disintermediation, socialization, dematerialization, expansion/extension of knowledge access, etc. while breaking the value-cost tradeoff, hence increasing the customer’s willingness to pay whilst decreasing the cost. You must focus on what will be the best change, when you will succeed and connect the dots with financial KPIs in order to make explicit why the outputs will positively impact your business, the society and how. Be Bold. That’s what sets the leaders apart from the pack.

Be the bird.


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