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Use Your Senses.

Design Thinking serves as a valuable tool for defining problems, exploring core empathy with customers, and discovering new, surprising, and game-changing innovations in products, services, and experiences.

However, Design Thinking has its limits, the core shortcoming being that it uses only one of the five senses and other ways of knowing as the primary mode of creation. Because Design Thinking came out of the design and engineering world, the solutions tend to be visual.

There are more modes of creation and knowing, which allow different styles of thinkers to fully participate in innovation projects. The world of innovation needs to widen its dominant modes of discovery to include inventions that present themselves in ways other than visual.

The various forms of clairvoyance provide new methods of ideation and conceptual thinking. We recommend exploring at the idea generating stage first with each mode. You never know what mode may crack the code of growth and provide real value to your business.

Keep in mind that, in the ideation phase, a basic download has already occurred and we seek new ideas, which is more of an art than a science. Later in the process, we apply the critical facilities in the Validation phase of the project.

Here is a short list of some of the non-visual sensory modes:

Feeling/Touching: Clairsentience. Here, a person acquires insight primarily by feeling. Kinesthetic learners thrive when they can feel an idea or touch a concept, making creation a “hands-on” experience. Actually doing an activity can be the easiest way for them to learn. Mapping out an experience, as in asking “how does it feel when … ?”, can make the feeling mode valuable and immediate. After all, innovations make tired categories easier to use and create a better experience. Sometimes, the way the category should feel arises in these sessions – and serves as a tuning fork for the entire project lifecycle.

Hearing/Listening: Clairaudience. In this mode, insights form first as a sound – sometimes a whole word and sometimes a hum or a syllable – and people who excel in this style discern deeply, listening with a “third ear” attuned to auditory impressions. We recommend a Deep Listening session – where we seek to define the tone and pitch of the category of the innovation. Many ideas spring out from these “seed syllables.”

Smelling: Clairalience. The olfactory senses have long been called the gateway of the soul. How should a product or place smell – and how do you map out the associations that arise in the process. How does a poorly performing category smell now, whether it’s a store, a doctor’s office, or a restaurant. Smart companies, like Westin Hotels, know the value of defining a particular scent.

Knowing: Claircognizance. The hunch. Sometimes you know something from the gut. This form of knowledge is an intuitive download. Many business people, artists, and scientists have written about intuition. After an immersion into a problem, practice ways to tap the intuition of the team members. Acknowledge the knowing as it presents itself to group members in a way that is non-judgmental. As Dr. Norman Sheely says, “Every invention is an intuitive download.” Einstein agrees: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift.”

Tasting: Clairgustance. In this mode, you turn on your taste buds – and taste a substance without putting anything in your mouth. Popular culture has a keen expression: “That left a bad taste in my mouth.” Woe be on the company that leaves a bad taste in a customer’s mouth. How should an experience taste? That is the question.

Design Thinking works for visual thinkers, but it is a big world with a complex range of senses. All of these senses can be harnessed to create breakthrough innovations.

Trendcasting and Innovation

Did you wake up this morning to realize that the world has changed and your business has not changed with it? Many companies of all sizes are dying a slow death in a saturated market with outdated business models. They fail to get out ahead of what’s next.

Business leaders commonly attribute growth issues to a stagnant market or corporate dependency on an inferior product. These are excuses – the heart of the issue is a short-term and reactive corporate mindset. The antidote is to install a culture of proactive forethought to replace the more typical reactive market strategies.

We encourage our clients to take up trendcasting – the practice of tracking and forecasting global trends that will affect their business. This relatively new term has been used mostly for tracking and predicting consumer behavior, but we believe that it is also useful for studying industries and a productive innovation tool for those seeking growth and transformation.

To do this, you should task a group of employees with professionally diverse backgrounds to become a band of trend-spotters and form a think tank of sorts within the company. The team’s objective is to uncover emerging trends that are three to five years out. To start, they have to take a snapshot of where things are today so that they have defined a baseline for future trends. Done right, this is not just a research effort to read analyst reports and round up their assessment of existing trends. The idea is to see what others do not and to predict the next wave of trends. Have the team investigate the macroeconomic factors at work in both the global economy and the industry. They should also study the regulations underway and those that might come down the pike. Once they have a handle on current established trends, they can begin to evaluate all of the possible impacts that might set off new trends.

At this point, it may be helpful to bring in a third party to facilitate the discussion and prompt the team to stretch their thinking. Industry experience and basic human cognitive bias will cloud their ability to see beyond what happened in the past and project into a new and unexpected future.

Be on the lookout for fads, a pet rock-like flash in the pan. It is important to define a set of indicators and parameters to evaluate the size, impact, and likelihood of the trend materializing. This will give the team a framework to assess risk and determine if the prospective trend is just an element to be factored in to the strategy or whether it is significant enough to warrant an innovation effort.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that validates trends with 100 percent certainty. However, quantitative models that assess probability and risk are useful tools when considering investment. Pinpointing emerging trends is critical to defining the boundaries for a successful innovation effort. If you want to grow through innovation, you must first understand existing trends and then trendcast to discover what might be next.

Go Deep or Go Home in the Era of Innovation

We meet companies and non-profits who have been marketing to the same lists for years. Often, these lists and the assumptions about the people on their lists are more than a decade old. These aged lists may have been scrubbed, but that is simply for those who have fallen off the grid, one way or another. This point should be obvious to any reader of this book: there are major problems with this scenario.

First off, organizations marketing to the same list for years lose the feel of how their buyers make decisions. Their selling instincts dull, and then they tend to think of names on the list as objects rather than subjects with rich, full lives, motivations, and choices. In essence, they lose their hunting impulse, their sense of courtship, and reduce a potentially valuable customer relationship into a vague, impersonal slot machine, settling for a single transaction with low odds.

Second, people are dynamic, not static. If these organizations put their prospects into a rigid category instead of knowing them on a deeper level, they will be marketing to a snapshot that is no longer valid. Think of yourself or your children 10 years ago to demonstrate this point. People are one of the most progressive species on the planet. Fortunes can be made, lost, and regained in a decade—and if your customer information keeps the same basic inputs, you are out of touch with reality.

Third, your weakest competitors are marketing to the exact same list. Incredibly, they are marketing to them with a similar value proposition, brand promise, feature and benefit set, and price range (perhaps with a few incremental differences, but nothing really discernible to them). They, too, are eking out a living on the after-fumes of cobwebbed insights from a decade ago, and cannot think outside of the confines of a strategy set when the world was a different place.

Fourth, the most egregious sin: They don’t have any actionable insights about the market, the people in the market, the trends and forces that shape the market, and they do not renew and transform their innovation and marketing efforts to position as a leader in their category. This is the classic deadly sin of sloth. If it exists in your organization, eradicate it or risk extinction.

Face it: this is the post-industrial world, the economic era of innovation. These innovations are steeped in human-to-human valves—offering products, services, causes, and messages that add value to a person’s life. You have to know a person to go this deep. You must immerse yourself in their world and get out of your conference room to comprehend where and how you can really add value.

Call it a deep dive, a voice of the customer, an ethnography, narrative insight based marketing research, field studies, whatever—just get out of your own head and your rut-like routines and get inside the homes, routines, rituals, and hearts of your people. Honor those that buy from you or give to you, as subjects with dynamic lives.

By investing in them, you create a win-win relationship. You offer something of value to Joe, Betty, John, Veena, and Amir—and they, in return, return to your offering as part of the natural course of their lives. This quid pro quo, these repeat sales, will not happen if you keep playing the old lists game and never spend time with your prospect base. Go deep.

Primary Research. Personal Legends. Talking Sticks.

Businesses, organizations, and non-profits grow with the level of first-hand experiences they have with their prospects, customers, members, or donors. These entities both know themselves and also know their audience, their tribe.

This is the Relationship Age – the era of paying attention. Think of it as winning business by paying respect.

To know yourself you have to go through a detailed strategic process and carefully, consciously create a vibrant culture. To know your audience, you have to learn to respect people deeply. The primacy of compassionate and sensitive primary, first-hand, narrative research is the key that unlocks this world of possibilities.

The hardest thing for organizations to do to accomplish such growth is to realize that traditional marketing research and segmentation is outmoded. The reason: it looks at the people with whom it should be trying to cultivate a relationship as a target, a one-dimensional object, rather than a fully alive human subject with a treasure trove of stories, memories, dreams, hopes, and fears. In summary, the old method edits out the humanity. And, winning the innovation game is about touching humanity, creating something of value for real people.

When the author of The Alchemist and other books, Paulo Coelho, was inducted into the Brazilian Academy of Letters, he said, “The glory of the world is transitory, and we should not measure our lives by it, but by the choice we make to follow our personal legend, to believe in our utopias, and to fight for our dreams.” And then he wrote, “We are all protagonists of our own lives, and it is often the anonymous heroes who make the deepest mark.”

By honoring people in this spirit, primary research gets to the heart of the matter—the human experience with a product, service, or organization—and taps into the personal legends of each of the people with whom they are working.

Most of the people working in this field are consumer anthropologists who have been trained to listen respectfully, probe deeply, and stay attuned for verbal and non-verbal clues. This tradition goes back to pre-history days in the legend of the Taking Stick. The Talking Stick was a method used by Native Americans, to let everyone speak their mind during a council meeting, a type of tribal meeting. According to the indigenous Americans’ tradition, the stick was imbued with spiritual qualities that called up the spirit of their ancestors to guide them in making good decisions. The stick ensured that all members who wished to speak had their ideas heard. All members of the circle were valued equally.

The rules of the Talking Stick follow: Whoever holds the talking stick has within their hands the power of words. Only they can speak while holding the stick, and the other council members must remain silent. The eagle feather tied to the stick gives the speaker the courage and wisdom to speak truthfully and wisely. The rabbit fur on the end of the stick reminds him that his words must come from his heart.

The history of AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) and other step programs and the practice of psychotherapy are all based on this awareness: that speaking the truth is healing. But it is healing for the group as a whole because as each individual listens, in silence and reverence, a whole world of understanding opens up.

This world of understanding becomes the basis of innovations that make lives better and makes organizations more meaningful and significant.

The Hardest Part.

For many in the innovation field, the hardest task is listening—real listening, deep listening. To listen without building a mental model or rushing to a conclusion is a cultivated skill. To listen to a person’s summary of your product or service and honor their experience as the only experience that matters is not only a great courtesy, but it can be a competitive advantage; that is, if you are willing to collect feedback from a lot of customers and apply adaptive intelligence.

The hardest part is just listening.

In the Design Thinking methodology of innovation, the first major phase is empathy. Empathy is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings.” Really feeling the feelings of your customers means walking in their high heels or loafers. What it really means is surrendering all of your pre-set and pre-amp notions of what you may mean to them and approaching the session with a receptive, open ear. As our Buddhist friends say, you must see their experience with a Beginner’s Mind.

Once they start pointing out where they get confused or frustrated, the hardest part is just listening. Your hands starts shaking when taking notes .You may catch yourself wanting to instruct them on “proper” usage of your product or service, but then you remember, it’s their experience and they are the customer. You are just here to collect information. There will be a time for clustering for trends and developing theories. There will be a time to make revisions and test them. Right now, in this moment of empathy collecting, your role is to listen deeply—and that’s a metaphoric mountain you have to climb, the hard part, just listening.

Only after you have paid respects to those you serve by listening and collecting enough empathies sans personal or corporate bias can you begin to reframe or define the next steps. At this point in the empathy phase listening to the patterns and trends that emerge is the hardest part.

What you find may unlock many fresh perspectives, ideas for sustainable competitive advantage, and new ways to surfeit unmet customer needs.

But you need to listen and that’s the hard part.

Design Thinking: A Tested Method for Creating Breakthrough Innovation

While the word “innovation” thunders from the boardroom and from the ranks, few companies actually build a sustainable process for generating real solutions that create value. Instead, they hastily focus on un-validated and over-caffeinated pet ideas of the CEO. Or worse, they spend a lot of time and resources recreating a slightly different version of their same core offering.

The two, too common scenarios noted above are not innovation. Real innovation is not a product line extension or an additional feature. Spare us. The world is already surfeited with such nonsense.

Real innovation requires thinking outside of your own business paradigm.

Real innovations that make major traction in the market solve problems people didn’t know they had. Real innovations get out of the office and embody the matter. They walk in the shoes of the intended audience, even visit them at home or their office. They begin with empathy, then follow an iterative process, and then reap substantial rewards.

This formal innovation process was named just a few years ago. While it remains contested, Design Thinking is a set of principles—from mindset and roles to process—that work for consumer products, software, services, even in the social sector.

Design Thinking is a method for solving complex problems. Think of Design Thinking as installing a new operating system for life: it’s that revolutionary. Looking at the world with an inspired eye for redesigning every aspect that could be improved is the mindset. There are few experiences that could not be improved.

As noted by Tim Brown, now the CEO of IDEO, there are three spaces to explore, which overlap: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

Here’s the skinny version:

Inspiration: the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions: this stage involves interviewing, observing, sketches, mock-ups, and scenario-building.
Ideation: the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas: this stage involves building prototypes & exploring the balance between practical functionality and emotional appeal.
Implementation: the path that leads from the project room to the market: this stage involves clearly communicating the idea and proving/showing that it will work, and validating a business model for the concept.

Design Thinking follows a seven-step framework: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn. These steps overlap one another and are repeated in iterations to produce concepts that work.

While Design Thinking came out of product development, graphic design, and engineering fields, its processes and spaces are being adopted by research and development, marketing, and product management departments in many firms across the globe.

The process requires some non-linear thinking and allows for the devil’s advocate role to be voiced. For these reasons, many companies cannot allow it into their culture—to their own detriment and decline.

Companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Target, Apple, IKEA, as well as Bank of America, the Mayo Clinic and a host of others you know by name are defining market trends and market cap by employing elements of Design Thinking in their innovation efforts.

If your boardroom and hallways thunder with the call to innovate, get real. Try some processes with proven efficacy. Don’t just rush into tomorrow the same as yesterday with a little more haste and stress.


Business Anthropology

Many consumer product, retail, and software companies are reinventing themselves and growing market share by better empathizing with the people who use their products or services. Increasingly, other businesses—from B2B companies to doctor clinics—are learning the potent power of empathy.

Traditional market research and connection tools only take insight so far. To build a real bridge for innovation and new product efforts, new applications and approaches were needed to supplement the old mix.

While some aspects of this trend are labeled as Design Thinking or User Experience, the field gives rise to a new role: anthropologist or ethnographer. Whether it is a retail, consumer, or business anthropologist, these specialists take an immersive approach to getting to know the people for whom products and services are being created.

Companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Target, and the Mayo Clinic have gained insights that create new markets using this method. Empathy is the key here. Business anthropology unlocks the opportunities.

Disclosure: Because this discipline is so rare in our part of the U.S., we interviewed an employee of our company about this growing trend and her role as anthropologist/ethnographer, Cole Bradley.


What is ethnography?

Strictly speaking, ethnography is a qualitative research method used to understand a population through empirical evidence.


How is ethnography a useful tool for businesses?

For businesses, understanding the lives, desires, motivations, and habits of their client is critical for providing the right products and services to the right people. This is where ethnography is crucial. You can make assumptions about a person’s purchasing habits or service needs, or you can discover what’s beyond their wallet through direct interaction and communication. This discovery process is the cornerstone of ethnography.


How can ethnographic methods be applied to business?

Where business can truly benefit from ethnography is through consistent and systematic application of techniques. The models can also be applied within the business. Want to reduce turnover, increase worker satisfaction, or streamline a process? Don’t assume a top-down approach. Oftentimes, the person with the most insight is the person actually doing the job, and ethnographic exercises are ideal for vetting the expert knowledge and experiences of your team.


Why is a human-centered way of doing business more important than ever?

In a mass produced society, we are desperate to know that our individuality and sense of self are being cared for through the things we purchase, be it an iPod or a yoga class. People want to feel that the product or service they are buying is right for them as a unique entity. Ethnography can be vital to determining what drives a specific group or individual so that their experience feels more personal and fulfills that need for connection.


What is the most surprising thing you have discovered working in the private sector? 

How much a person’s network influences who they are and what they do. Even though we are increasingly disconnected- from our food, our people, our heritage, our planet- we still seek the advice of those closest to us, just like we have done for the last 200,000 years. From where to get a haircut to what type of job we should do to who we should marry, we rely on other people to guide us. We like to think we are secluded in our decision making, that we’re islands of choices, but it’s simply not true. We need our networks.

Are You an Empathetic Professional?

As a professional, as a leader, even as a brand, ask yourself this critical question: are you empathetic? Do you have the genuine ability to “understand and share the feelings of another”?

More research is showing us the power of empathy, as it can be used as the tissue that connects and deepens relationships. With empathy, you walk in the other’s high heels or sneakers, feel their feelings, experience life from their perspective. Human brains are filled with mirror neurons, which not only react to our subjects of empathy, but also reproduce their emotions.

However, there is a dark side of pure empathy, called pain. Ongoing neuroscientific research tells us that when we feel the stress of others, we take on their pain.

“Empathy is really important for understanding others’ emotions very deeply, but there is a downside of empathy when it comes to the suffering of others,” says Olga Klimecki, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany. “When we share the suffering of others too much, our negative emotions increase. It carries the danger of an emotional burnout.”

Whereas the first question is, are you empathetic? The second one is, are you compassionate? A recent study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that we can better cope with others’ negative emotions by strengthening our own skills for compassion, which the researchers define as “feeling concern for another’s suffering and desiring to enhance that individual’s welfare.”

Training in compassion allowed participants who are empathetic to better cope with despair. With more and more evidence, we see that empathy is a gateway into the others’ experiences, but compassion is the arch through which you want to do something to help the other without robbing them of any wise life lessons.

While there is a lot of press about the power of empathy, it only takes you half the way to the point of creativity, of wanting to craft a solution that fits the situation. In pure empathy, due to neuroplasticity, you can get lost in the emotions of others.

Compassion, defined as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others,” means that you care enough to try and help. Compassion also mitigates against the negativity, allowing our brains to respond in a grounded, positive manner to tough news or hard feedback.

This is great news if you plan on creating or improving a product or service or being a good leader of people, as you can tap this deep reservoir of humanity to create something of value, something useful, and something that fills an unmet need or sets something crooked straight. Likewise, if you are in a management position you can earn trust by being empathetic with your employees.

Empathy creates the bridge, and compassion points out a new path. This new path is what meaningful innovation seeks to be in the market.

Business Becomes Human

An R&D scientist once said to me, “We need to always begin new product development projects this way,” after sifting through more than 20 in-depth consumer narratives of their condition. These people went into great details about their lives, their struggles, their rituals, and their beliefs. As we unpacked their learnings, the scientist understood the complexities of having a rich, full contextual understanding of the people for whom he will design new, innovative solutions. To summarize with a metaphor, he walks in their high heels, sneakers, and Crocks, embodying their situation as if it were his own.

Instead of creating another product barely distinguishable from the sea of sameness that surfeits the shelves of food, drug, and mass stores off of a job brief that solves a marketing line problem, this scientist can now collaborate on a new approach to these problems with a deep understanding of the situation.

The insight at hand is that we are not solving business problems here. We are solving human problems. In this era when landfills and the seas are gutted with enough plastic to choke the planet, do we really need another product for the sake of making money solely? Wouldn’t it be better if we create things people need, people use, and that help people? Please do not tell me that this is idealistic.

This is the business-world paradigm shift of our era. Forget business-to-business. Forget business-to-consumer. That is outdated thinking.

We are crafting solutions for real people. Instead of creating a me-too product for an ambiguous market segment, real innovations seek to connect with the fate and fabric of their users’ lives. This is human-to-human business and smart product design, part caused-based and part entrepreneurial horse sense, but it makes business good and it also, no surprise, makes good business.

Following this human-centric process, Design Thinking, begins with empathy with real people. Later, product ideas are co-created with real people. This hand-on-the-pulse method creates new, breakthrough products and services that make a positive difference in the lives of many.

As the scientist says, “We need to always begin new product development projects this way.” Welcome to the new era.

Growth: That Crazy Talk

Call it the entrepreneurial instinct, innovation, business savvy, whatever you want: strategic growth is how business prospers.

While iconic ventures stand as global luminaries of category-defining growth, such as the modern grocery store and overnight delivery, most businesses cower when facing growth.

Growth is a natural source of power, a wellspring or volcano. Businesses, like nature, live a lifecycle. Organizations are as alive as a person; yet, most businesses do not harness the growth process to gain an advantage.

Rare companies that address growth by a mix of planning and making well-timed, well-orchestrated adaptions to their plan make positive headlines.

In most cases, dynamics change market conditions and businesses retrench. They do more of what no longer works with increased vigor and focus. They react in fear. These actions dig a grave.

More than ever, every business needs to find, discover, and implement fresh, rewarding ways to procure and retain business. Remain relevant, demonstrate value, and compete with formally unthinkably high levels of service.

At the time when companies need to radically rethink their market strategy, they hide behind walls of denial and the sleepy, sentimental practices that worked in the 70s, 80s or 90s.

Sadly, we witness this reenactment at business after business: “Growth. What do you mean? We’re just sitting, waiting for the phone to ring. … We don’t need a plan. … We just trade customers back and forth with our competition,” and on and on. We get thrown out for crazy talk.

Excuses and justifications, we’ve heard them all. They add up to a deafening wake up call for the whole business culture of Planet Earth.

Consider your business. Do you really want to become one of hundreds of companies that were industry leaders in the cultural climate that once was? An example of the perfect company for its era, long ago? Or, can we retool our business climate and invent new product pipelines and services that create new markets and generate serious returns?

What will this generation’s visionaries look like? What core markets will they disrupt or create? How will they impact the world and infuse the local economy by being a top employer and recruiter for the area? Perhaps it will grow out of your neighborhood?

Let’s apply this crazy talk to existing companies. What old-line companies will transform their business model and product/service mix to keep growing? What companies will quicken their demise by not changing?

These are crazy times. Listen to the crazy talk.

Here’s what keeps you sane: accept the fact that growth is a reality in business. What keeps you inspired is seeing your topline revenue grow because you guided change in your favor. You have a strategy. You adapt. You keep the firm in the present moment, instead of living a tired dream and repeating outmoded practices.

Will the next company be ready to grow, stand up? The world needs you.