Water. At a fundamental level, it’s just a collection of molecules and yet without it much of the life on our planet would not exist. We drink it, we bathe in it, we irrigate our crops with it and we harvest the fish that swim in it and yet all too often we take it for granted.
So we pollute it and we waste it and unless we are involved with organisations such as Just a Drop (for which my Building a Culture of Innovation co-writer Jo Geraghty is an ambassador) then we are probably not in tune with the daily struggle that others may go through just to get enough water to stay alive.
And yet, whether we laboriously pump it out of the ground, catch it gushing from a tap or buy it bottled and labelled from our favourite store, all water is fundamentally the same. Sure, it may have different mineral or bacterial content; they are just added extras. But water is just H2O and at some stage or another in the distant past it will have passed through a dinosaur.
Yep – you heard it right – every drop of water on the earth is Tyrannosaurus Rex pee. For that thought provoking fact we have to thank Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst . He comments that all the water on Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years and that given the length of time the dinosaurs were around it is a fair bet that at some stage every drop of water will have passed through a dinosaur’s kidneys.
Trying to put that thought aside, we need water to survive. But it has to be the right sort of water. Treated with contempt, contaminated with bacteria, chemicals and toxins and it can become a deadly weapon. Conversely, purified too much and it will disturb the balance of electrolytes in your body, leading to brain damage and even death.
It’s a lesson we can take with us into other walks of life. Take business for example. At a fundamental level every business is the same; there to provide products or services to a consumer base. However, if we want our businesses to grow and our customers to flourish we have to treat our businesses in the right way. Neglect them and toxic practices will creep in leading to employee disengagement, shoddy products, customer dissatisfaction and falling profitability. Conversely, micromanage your business and you can kill off any chance of enabling innovation or initiative to take hold, eventually leading to the death of the organisation.
In essence, if we want our businesses and our customers to survive then we have to treat them in the right way and that means building what I call a ‘Next Generation Organisation’. By that I mean, one that sets innovation at the very heart of not just what it does but ‘how’ it does it. What do we mean by this? Well, Next Generation Organisations embrace three core elements in order to really drive innovation; intelligence, collaboration and adaptability.
Understanding the jobs to be done
Let’s start with intelligence. It’s a rare business nowadays that doesn’t have some understanding of its customers but far too many still content themselves with simply gathering basic data; what do they buy/how many do they buy/when do they buy. That might help with ordering but it doesn’t go anywhere near building a true understanding of what your customers really need, what problems they have or what excites them. For that you have to ask the question ‘why’.
Ask the question in the right way and really try and seek out the answer and you may well find that what your customers are buying and what they really need are two very different things, leading to the opening up of an entirely new marketplace. For example, if your customer buys water from you, takes it home, purifies it through a filter and then adds flavouring are you really providing something which they genuinely need or a next best thing which they can work with in the absence of something better?
It’s a process that Harvard’s Clayton Christensen has studied extensively in recent times, and forms the fulcrum of his ‘jobs to be done’ theory.
“The jobs-to-be-done framework is a tool for evaluating the circumstances that arise in customers’ lives. Customers rarely make buying decisions around what the “average” customer in their category may do—but they often buy things because they find themselves with a problem they would like to solve. With an understanding of the “job” for which customers find themselves “hiring” a product or service, companies can more accurately develop and market products well-tailored to what customers are already trying to do,” he says.
Working collaboratively together
Coming up with these kind of solutions is often best done as a collective and collaborative process. True collaboration potentially excludes no one from the innovation mix. If you want clean water you don’t really care who helps you to dig the well; if you’re looking for genuine solutions which resonate with customers then what does it matter if colleagues, suppliers, researchers or even customers themselves pitch in with ideas or help with development.
As Sun Microsystem’s Bill Joy famously said “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else,” and the best solutions to these problems are quite likely to be found outside of those traditionally tasked with devising them.
Sense and respond
The notion of a sense and respond organisation was first coined by Stephen Haeckel back in the 90s and it was designed to allow organisations to better respond to changing times. When there is an identified need for water but a hole in your bucket you can’t wait around while the stone sharpens the axe which cuts the straw to mend the hole, even assuming you can get water to wet the stone in the first place. By then the house has burnt down or the person has died of thirst. So, agility is key; bringing ideas to market when they are needed, not at some nebulous time in the future, and never has this need for agility been more prescient than it is today.
All water is dinosaur wee, all businesses are in essence, the same; there’s no getting away from that. What differentiates toxic water from life-giving elixir, what differentiates a toxic business from one that looks to shape a great future for itself and its customers, is down to the way in which it is treated. Respect it, approach it with a clear vision and a Next Generation strategy and you may just have a solution which delivers longevity and health for generations to come.
This article was written by Cris Beswick for The Future Shapers and previously posted on 29/11/2016.