A Power Tool for Creative Thinking

What if you could find a way to think like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, or Richard Branson? What if you discovered the actual thought processes that lead great innovators to their Eureka moments, and then you reverse-engineered them? What if you built a power tool for creative thinking that would enable you to emulate the mind of the innovator?

Ever notice that when you read books or articles about after-the-fact cases of successful innovation, the authors rarely go back and try to unpack the thinking processes that led the innovators to their breakthroughs? They don’t ask “What was this person thinking? How did he or she manage to spot some disruptive opportunity for industry revolution that everyone else seems to have missed? What was different about the innovator’s angle of view?”

It’s time we changed this. It’s time we opened up that magical black box called the human mind and took a good look at how it actually generates new ideas. It’s time we found out how radical innovators are able to uncover the powerful insights that are so invisible to others, and then use them as the inspiration for game-changing products, services, strategies, and business models. Simply put, it’s time we took the intuitive techniques of great inventors and creative entrepreneurs and turned them into a systematic methodology for innovation that anyone can use.

This post goes out on the official launch day of my brand new book:

“The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking

The essential premise of the book is that it’s possible for all of us to unlock our ability to innovate if we can learn to look at the world the same way great innovators do. By analyzing the way they actually come up with their brilliant ideas, the book identifies four key perspectives or thinking patterns that have driven creative thinking, technological progress, and innovation throughout human history – and especially in our own day. These are:

Innovators question and overturn deeply entrenched beliefs and common assumptions, exploring new and highly unconventional answers. They never accept that there is only one “right” way of doing things inside a company or across an industry.

What do Swatch, Dell, Southwest Airlines, IKEA, Netflix, Commerce Bank, Enterprise rent-a-car, Dyson, and Zara have in common? They were all willing to contest long-established industry practices, and to take a contrarian approach.

Think about more recent examples. Tesla Motors turned conventional wisdom in the automobile industry completely on its head. Chipotle challenged the notion that fast food can’t be healthy or sustainable. Nike Flyknit completely reconceived sports shoe manufacturing. IT’SUGAR reinvented candy retail by targeting adult customers instead of children. Beats by Dre asked why everyone was listening to music with cheap, low-performance earbuds – what if there was a market for $300 designer headphones?


Innovators understand change. The pay close attention to nascent trends and discontinuities that have the potential to profoundly impact the future of an industry, or that could be harnessed to substantially alter the rules of the game.

Jeff Bezos is a trend surfer. When he read a report back in 1994, while working on Wall St., about the explosive growth of the Internet, he quickly asked himself what kind of business model would make sense in the context of that growth. Amazon.com was his answer. Since then, he has continued to ride successive waves of change, taking his company into new opportunities like Amazon Marketplace, the Kindle e-book reader, the Kindle Fire tablet, Amazon Fire TV set-top box with Amazon Prime video streaming, and dedicated retail sections for 3D printing and wearables (to tap into these emerging growth arenas).

Over the last decade, several innovative companies have shown that they are adept at exploiting trends that are gathering force and speed around the world. Nike was a pioneer among sports companies in the field of digital and social media, launching their Nike+ ecosystem of digital products and experiences back in 2010. Netflix first capitalized on the success of the DVD and its rapid expansion into U.S. homes, then made the successful shift from home DVD delivery to on-demand streaming media in 2007. Starbucks has kept abreast of new digital technology with its reloadable Starbucks prepaid card and its own mobile payments app, which now generates over 7 million mobile transactions every week. Two or three years ago, both Twitter and Facebook recognized the advertising potential of social video, respectively launching Vine and Instagram Video to take advantage of this space. GE has moved to gain a dominant position in what it calls the “Industrial Internet” – the integration of industrial machines with smart networks of sensors and software. Mapping services Waze combined a regular GPS car navigation system with four major trends: social media, location-based networking, online gaming, and mobile. Now the world’s largest community based traffic and navigation app, Waze was acquired by Google in 2013 for $1 billion.

Innovators look at a company not as a set of business units but as a collection of core competencies and strategic assets that can potentially be repurposed, redeployed, and recombined to create new growth opportunities.

ESPN started out as a small cable TV channel. But over the years the company has masterfully leveraged its core competencies in sports coverage, its special relationships with industry associations and franchises, and the equity of its own brand, to extend the boundaries of the business into all kinds of new growth opportunities. Today, ESPN is the world’s most powerful sports media company, with a whole range of TV channels along with radio programs, its own magazine, video games and mobile apps, films and documentaries, fan apparel, competitions, and so on.

Out of a humble cartoon studio in the 1920s, the Walt Disney company has grown into a global empire with $45 billion in annual revenues by stretching its core competencies (exceptional storytelling and entertainment skills, and the ability to connect with the child in all of us) and powerful assets (world-class studio facilities, beloved characters, and the Disney brand name) into syndicated comic strips, merchandise, live-action films, documentaries and TV shows, theme parks, resorts and hotels, video games, retail stores, theatre productions, “Disney on Ice” touring shows, a cruise line business, international vacation services, and Disney English – a language training school for children in China, based on Disney’s immersive storytelling approach, which incorporates Disney characters in the education experience.

Other innovators have used this very same principle to extend into either adjacent or perhaps even radically different kinds of opportunities. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group started with a single record store in London UK, and has transformed itself into a global conglomerate with over 400 different companies in a multitude of diverse market sectors. Google started with just a search engine and has progressively pursued a whole range of new ways to create value and wealth, such as productivity tools, cloud computing, operating systems, hardware, television, apps, wearables, self-driving cars, airborne wind turbines, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, high-altitude balloons for broadcasting Internet service to remote areas, and even life extension technologies.

Innovators learn to live inside the customer’s skin. They put themselves in the customer’s shoes and are able to feel their “pain points”, identifying unmet or unvoiced needs others have overlooked or ignored. Then they design solutions from the customer backward.

Procter & Gamble encourages its employees to get out of their labs and offices and into the homes of consumers. At times, researchers actually go and live with consumers in their houses or apartments for several days, eating meals with them and joining them on shopping trips. Ethnographers armed with video cameras have been sent out to households all around the world to film the way people wash their clothes, clean their bathrooms, feed their kids, and so on. The objective is to get a more visceral understanding about consumers’ lives, their everyday routines and personal care experiences, their needs, aspirations, and emotions. It’s also a way for P&G to gain important insights into the lifestyles and local habits of people in many different countries and cultures.

By putting the customer at the center of the company’s innovation efforts, P&G has been able to unleash a torrent of new value-creating products that have reshaped entire categories, pushing up the company’s commercial success rate for new product launches from 15 or 20 percent to a staggering 50 or 60 percent.

Other companies take a more intuitive approach that nevertheless focuses is on solving unmet needs customers may not even be aware they have. Nobody, for example, told Apple they wanted a translucent desktop computer, a cool MP3 player, an online music store, a revolutionary smartphone, an App Store, or a tablet computer, but Steve Jobs somehow knew we needed these things. Likewise, nobody was crying out for Facebook, Skype, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, TiVo, Netflix, Spotify, Uber, AirBnb, or smart home appliances from Nest Labs. Yet visionary entrepreneurs were able to connect what was technically possible with what was needed.

These four perceptual lenses have been the fundamental catalysts for radical new thinking in every case of great innovation.

Without exception, the inventions, solutions, and business models that have changed our world were discovered by either challenging conventional assumptions, exploiting a trend that was gaining momentum, using existing skills or assets in new ways or new contexts, or addressing a need that was going unmet. Or, in most cases, it was some combination of these four perspectives that led the innovators to their breakthroughs. Unpack any example of innovation and you will see this very clearly for yourself.

The great news is that now we are closer to understanding the mind of the innovator, we can actually try to reverse-engineer it by deliberately and systematically employing the same mental perspectives to discover exciting new insights and build big, breakthrough ideas. By looking at the world – or at particular situations or problems – through these four lenses, we can dramatically enhance our brain’s natural capacity for creativity and innovation, and spot unexploited opportunities that we otherwise would never have seen. Like many thousands of other people around the world who have learned and deployed the Four Lenses in their companies, you can discover the amazing power of this methodology for supercharging your own innovation performance.

It will remove the mental blindness that may in the past have caused you to miss some significant chances for changing the game. It will open your eyes to notice the many fixed paradigms and routines in your company and your industry that you have probably been taking for granted, and that may be ripe for rethinking and reinvention. It will equip you to imagine whether particular trends, or clusters of trends, might open up significant new growth opportunities in the future so that you can move quickly to capture the maximum share of those opportunities before some disruptive rival beats you to it. It will help you to not only innovate within your current core business, but also to see beyond it and spot huge untapped potential for profitable growth. It will allow you to see what is wrong or frustrating about your current offerings from your customer’s perspective, and reveal how to solve these issues by thinking from the customer backward. In short, the Four Lenses will enable you to think with the mind of the innovator, making you more like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, or Richard Branson than you might imagine.

Perhaps you recall that Steve Jobs once referred to the computer as a “bicycle for the mind,” in the sense that it acts as an enabling tool that vastly amplifies our natural capabilities. Likewise, I like to think of the Four Lenses as “a power tool for creative thinking” because of the remarkable way these lenses extend our capacity for creativity—either as individuals or as teams—effectively catalyzing our innovation efforts.

I’m delighted, therefore, to introduce you to The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking.” To find out more about the book and this revolutionary methodology, I invite you to watch the video below, or you can buy the book right here. Please also join me here on Innovation Excellence for a free live webinar on Thursday March 26th between 12 Noon and 1pm EST for a discussion and Q&A on the book’s core methodology. You can register for the webinar right here.

© Rowan Gibson 2015. All rights reserved.

image credits: Shutterstock; Rowan Gibson TM

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Rowan Gibson (rg@rowangibson.com) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on innovation. He is the internationally bestselling author of 3 major books, an award-winning keynote speaker in 60 countries, and a cofounder of Innovation Excellence. His new book is The Four lenses of Innovation. On Twitter he is @RowanGibson.

Rowan Gibson




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No Comments

  1. Mitch Ditkoff on March 2, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    Good job! Sound advice. Nice intro video. And congratulations on actually getting your book out there into the world. I hope you sell a million.

    • Rowan Gibson on March 2, 2015 at 8:28 pm

      Thanks Mitch. It’s been a big day for the book, and hopefully for innovation and creativity. Just checked with Amazon and “The Four Lenses of Innovation” is already the #1 new release in two business categories. Really grateful for your support, and honored to receive your positive feedback. We’re all in this together!

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