Innovation Trumped

Innovation Trumped

Apologies in advance if any of the content in this article offends political sensitivities and affiliations; it’s certainly not the intention.  Judging by the press and social media, to most people in the UK and probably in Europe as a whole, it appears that the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA is beyond surprising.  But digging beneath the shock, and of course looking from the outside, there are lessons to learn for innovators.



Opinion pollsters will take a hell of a beating from this result.  Even previously credible pollsters like Nate Silver were predicting the wrong side of the coin, although at least he runs a probability model.  All too often it seems that, as innovators, we accept the market research predictions from standard methodology, benchmarked against previous experience to forecast the likely success of new initiatives.  Solid, precise numbers make us feel comfortable.  But precision isn’t accuracy.  When was the last time you really looked back to objectively assess outcome vs prediction?  If you haven’t, it’s about time you did.

And if the methodology isn’t working, change it.



Throughout the campaign, Trump repeated the promise to “make America great again”; Clinton didn’t have a simple message.  No matter what it meant, or what people thought it meant, it seemed to resonate with the disaffected.  It meant lots of things to different people, but as long as it was positive to enough of them, Trump didn’t care.

The same happened in the UK EU referendum with the Brexit camp’s continual recitation of “take back control”; the Remain group didn’t have a simple message.  The Brexit mantra certainly would not stand up to much scrutiny, but again resonated with people who felt they’d had a bad deal and wanted someone to blame.

It’s the same with the communication of innovation.  Simple messages work.  The more you try to list all the features and dramatize all the benefits, the more people who aren’t passionate about your product become disinterested.  As Einstein said (one of my favourite quotes) – “everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler”.



All too often we are ultra-rational when assessing competitive threats.  We also make too many assumptions.  Trump can’t win because he’s never been in an elected role or the military.  He’s the only presidential candidate not to release his tax returns.  He’s …… (fill in the blanks to your own bias).

Netflix will never succeed because they don’t have a main street presence and the bandwidth doesn’t exist.  Amazon will never succeed because people like to touch and feel books in a store.  What the hell do I need an iPad for?  640k ought to be enough for anybody (Bill Gates!).  Everything that can be invented has been invented (Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Patent Office).  I’m sure you can think of many other examples.

So as innovators, the next time we’re tempted to say something won’t work “because”; we should consider why it might work “despite” …

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Kevin McFarthingKevin McFarthing runs the Innovation Fixer consultancy, helping companies to improve the output and efficiency of their innovation, and to implement Open Innovation. He spent 17 years with Reckitt Benckiser in innovation leadership positions and also has experience in life sciences. Follow @InnovationFixer

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Kevin McFarthing




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