“Military intelligence” is the most famous oxymoron. How about “Logical Creativity”? Is it possible to have a logical process to reach creativity? Join Karla Nelson as she and Allen Fahden explain three levels of innovation and how to logically find your “Oppo-tunity”, the opportunity that exists in opposites.
Listen to the podcast here:
Karla Nelson: And welcome to the People Catalysts podcast, Allen Fahden.
Allen Fahden: Hello Karla.
Karla Nelson: Greetings my good friend. How are you today?
Allen Fahden: I am spectacular and getting better all the time.
Karla Nelson: Well, yeah. It’s not like scorching and 100 degrees outside in California anymore. Well it depends on where you’re at probably, but northern California gets pretty warm.
Allen Fahden: It’s Fall now. Actually, Fall is over. Fall lasted an hour and 28 minutes, and now we’re in Winter.
Karla Nelson: That’s northern California for you.
Allen Fahden: That’s right.
Karla Nelson: I’m really excited about the podcast today because I think this is such a critical step that people miss when trying to get innovation accomplished. The name of the podcast is Logical Creativity. Don’t you love that, because of opposite-
Allen Fahden: Yeah.
Karla Nelson: What we’re going to start talking about initially are the three levels of innovation and then we will look at the definition of the three levels of innovation and then utilize the most challenging, which is radical innovation, in order to get a big idea done.
The first level of innovation is incremental, the second is breakthrough, and the third is radical. What we’ll do is we’ll take a look at each and then we’ll have Allen go through each of the three levels and we’ll go back and forth and talk about examples of incremental, breakthrough and radical. Then we’ll wrap up with this process that you could utilize for, again, all three levels of innovation. We’re really going to focus on the last one, because those are where the big ideas are, and they’re the most challenging to not only create, but they’re the most challenging to get implemented.
The first level of innovation is incremental. Allen, do you want to go through background on that and then we’ll talk about some examples?
Allen Fahden: Absolutely. For this model, incremental, breakthrough and radical, I credit a man named Larry Keeley out of the Doblin Group in Chicago, who first turned me onto this about 20 years ago.
Let’s look at the first and most basic level of innovation is incremental, and that’s when people do a slight improvement, and that’s generally how the business mind is trained to think. I’ll give you an example of that. When Amazon first started as a dot-com, their goal was to become the best bookstore on the internet. They just ported a retail bricks and mortar bookstore to the internet and said, “Oh, well gosh. We could post reviews and people could read them. There’s some advantages to being online, as long as we can get the shipping down and everything, and get people not afraid to pay for things on the internet.” They did that and that was a great incremental innovation and look at them today. They’re one of the richest people in the world.
Karla Nelson: And I remember when everyone thought, “Oh, that’s not going to work. There’s no way. Come on. You can’t take books out of a bookstore.”
Allen Fahden: That’s right.
Karla Nelson: Now everyone looks at it and they forget because they’re an online platform now that connects millions and millions of people with their stores to other individuals. That’s kind of how also innovation, in starting with incremental, you can move to some of these other areas down the road as well.
The next level of innovation is breakthrough, and by the way, this, well it wasn’t really a study but the gentleman who created these three levels of innovation has … It’s been common knowledge too. Over the past 25 years … I think he created even longer than that, prior to it. You can find tons of information and articles and things like that to help support in regards to when you’re forming up or what type of innovation you’re trying to get created and then adopted. What we like to call the ideation or innovation stage and then the implementation stage. We’ll get to a model that we use in order to create that.
The next level of innovation is breakthrough. This is an innovation that is new to category, or you bring or combine different innovations to create a new category.
Allen Fahden: Yeah. An example of breakthrough innovation new to category would be, this is a story Gary Hamel told me. He’s big on new to category because his strategic bent is always, “How are you going dominate your category in the next 10 years?” If you’re a CEO, one way is to innovate that category, bring something new to the category.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. Be in a category of one.
Allen Fahden: Absolutely. That’s the market space as Renee Mauborgne and Chan Kim talk about in Blue Ocean Strategy.
Hamel’s example of this is that big department store Marks & Spencer based in London. They were trying to automate the whole idea of making fresh sandwiches because they wanted to dominate that category. They had everything down, and you can read this story in Weird Ideas that Work by Robert Sutton. They had everything down but they couldn’t find a way to butter the bread. They figured if they met their goals in the category, they’d have every employee at Marks & Spencer buttering bread all day long. It was a big bottleneck.
They went to see their supplier that made sheets for them and they were silk screening all kinds of patterns onto the sheets, and somebody said, “What if we did that with our butter.”
Karla Nelson: I just love this story.
Allen Fahden: You know how a piece of bread is shaped, sort of a rounded top like the loaf of bread, and the square bottom. They put butter onto a silkscreen in that pattern and they found that they could go wacketa, wacketa, wacketa, wacketa and butter all this bread automatically.
Karla Nelson: That’s incredible.
Allen Fahden: They went on to dominate the fresh sandwich business, and it didn’t eat up all their labor.
How do you do that? You go outside the category of something and the further away from it the better. Who’d ever think of a printing process? Food is clean and the opposite of clean is dirty. How could we do something that’s dirty? Printing’s really dirty, ink and all that. It’s the most unlikely place to come from, and that’s why breakthrough ideas are breakthrough ideas because they’re surprising.
Karla Nelson: I also like this. It’s a great example of how people working together that have completely different expertise, without being adversaries can generate that innovation together.
Allen Fahden: Right.
Karla Nelson: It’s like that quote that we always talk about in Arthur Koestler’s book in 1961, right?
Allen Fahden: Yep. The Act of Creation. He says everything’s already created. We don’t create. We combine. We take things that haven’t been together before and we force fit them together. If they fuse, it’s a great idea. If they’ve been together before it’s ho-hum, who cares. If they don’t fuse but they’re really opposite, that’s the whole basis of humor. The basis of humor and innovation are exactly the same thing. You either aha, they fuse together, or they don’t fuse together and the energy is blown away by laughter, so that’s a ha ha instead of an aha. Either way, it’s pretty fun. Whether you have innovation or humor, they’re both fun, both a lot of fun.
Karla Nelson: I like that. I’m going to have to quote you on that one. That’s a new one for you, Allen, it’s a ha ha instead of an aha. That’s a good one.
Allen Fahden: Yeah, and a University of Maryland study says that laughter gets oxygen to your brain, so a ha ha makes you smart enough to do an aha perhaps.
Karla Nelson: If you want to innovate, the one thing that you can do is to figure out how to identify and combine innovations from different industries and then create a new category in what industry that you’re focused on. That’s why it’s really important to meet other people and understand what everybody else is doing too.
Allen Fahden: Absolutely. We’re going to talk about this more, but one of the ways that you can get to these places, these ideas, is to create a contradiction. The beautiful thing about a contradiction, think of an oxymoron. Jumbo shrimp, military intelligence, airline food, then of course my favorite because I made it up, because I was jiggered, bank and trust. That’s my favorite contradiction in terms, which is an oxymoron. The thing about a contradiction is it forces you into the right brain. The left brain cannot process the contradiction, can’t understand it, so you automatically synapse through the corpus callosum into the right brain and that’s where the seat of creativity is.
Karla Nelson: Well there’s no better seat of creativity than you’re crazy, you and your team doing, what, I don’t know, 20 years ago with your book.
Allen Fahden: Yes, well-
Karla Nelson: This is great. Love it.
Allen Fahden: The theme for the new book is stupid is the new smart. We certainly lived that with the old book because what we did was we raised money to do this wonderful book about breakthrough thinking, Innovation on Demand, and we spent all the money and had no money left to market the book. The funny part about it was the book was about marketing, and we had no money to market the book.
Karla Nelson: Yeah, this was also when books were extremely expensive to create
Allen Fahden: Absolutely. All of a sudden it occurred to us, what if we used the methods in the book to market the book?
Karla Nelson: Concept.
Allen Fahden: That’s a foreign, smashing concept.
Karla Nelson: We’ve said that ourselves. Our team has said that so many times. You sit there and you kind of get lost, because you’re so close to your business, right? You can, even after using these strategies for 25 years, go, “Oh, wait a second. So maybe we should use what we teach?”
Allen Fahden: Yeah. What an idea.
Karla Nelson: Concept.
Allen Fahden: The shorthand, and you’ll hear more about it in a few minutes is what’s obvious about books? They’re sold in bookstores at the time. Amazon was just getting started. What’s obvious about bookstores? They’re getting bigger and bigger. Barnes and Noble, Borders, these huge bookstores with thousands and thousands of titles. What’s the opposite of that? That’s how you create a contradiction, right? Jumbo shrimp, those are opposites. How do you create a contradiction? It was zero books, but couldn’t think of what to do with that so kicked it back. One book, so we opened a one book bookstore called ReadDundant. Same book over and over again, redundantly, repetitively and tautologically.
Part of what you do is you put it back into the context of the original. The big stores had great customer service so we had great customer service. They had a lot of departments so we had 13 different departments, but this one book was the only book in every department: Sports, Religion, Anthropology, Fiction, Literature, Art and so on. They had great customer service. So did we. If you weren’t completely happy with your book we would cheerfully exchange for any other book in the whole store, your choice.
Karla Nelson: I love the sign you guys put up. Oh my gosh. Shoplifters welcome.
Allen Fahden: Welcome shoplifters. It was so stupid, the media said this is really idiotic. Let’s break this up. I just made a phone call and we got in front of 50 million people. 50 million people without doing a thing.
Karla Nelson: That’s why. People are just dying for something different. They just want something different.
Allen Fahden: Absolutely.
Karla Nelson: Especially the early adopters, the people that are going to buy your stuff.
Allen Fahden: And nothing’s more different than the opposite.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. I love it.
We’re going to be going through a step-by-step process in just a couple moments. We’ll go through each of the five steps, so we can help you go from obvious to opposite. We’re going to focus on, again, three levels of innovation, but we’re going to focus on radical innovation since this is the most difficult to come up with some really big ideas, and then obviously get them implemented which we’ll have to tackle in the next podcast.
Again, Allen, the last level of innovation is radical, so why don’t we spend a little bit of time on that because we’ll actually go through an example that will help them, but just to give some context to what radical innovation looks like.
Allen Fahden: Absolutely. Apple has been about radical innovation off and on, depending on who’s running it. Certainly off and on for …
Karla Nelson: Yeah. More like on when Steve Jobs was running it, off when he wasn’t.
Allen Fahden: Right. I’ve been an Apple person since 1980, and you know they really did a great opposite. They radically innovated. Computers are for business. What’s the opposite of business? Home. They did the first commercially viable home computer with the Apple II.
Karla Nelson: You could fit it in your home.
Allen Fahden: That’s right. It wasn’t a whole room full of tape drives and things like that.
The other thing was in 1984 they introduced the Mac, and they didn’t even come up with this idea. They borrowed it so to speak from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, was the Graphic User Interface. Here’s another thing. Computers were always text, text and numbers.
Karla Nelson: Oh my gosh, I remember those.
Allen Fahden: They did the opposite, pictures.
Karla Nelson: It was just green.
Allen Fahden: Yeah. You had a desktop with the Macintosh and we’re looking at the same thing today. It’s just a lot prettier, a lot more three dimensional, but you have folders on your desktop and everything is visual. That’s 1984. Then Steve Jobs hires John Sculley. Sculley was Chairman of Pepsi. He says, “Do you want to keep selling sugar water to pimply-faced kids or do you want to change the world?” So he goes to work and then a couple of years later he fires Steve Jobs and Apple starts kind of tanking and he comes back when they acquire Pixar I think.
Karla Nelson: Yes.
Allen Fahden: One of those companies. Grid or one of those things. He goes back and Apple’s floundering and he does another big opposite. What is that? The whole visual of computers. Computers have been for years little beige boxes and he says, “Okay, what’s the opposite of beige, colorful. What’s the opposite of box, no square corners, curves.”
Karla Nelson: Gosh. Even to the point of the fonts that he put on it. It was incredible.
Allen Fahden: Absolutely, and they introduced computers as fashion. Purple, orange, teal-colored little TV sets with rounded tops like a quarter spherical curve on them. They looked completely different and they started selling. They weren’t the first MP 3 player but he revolutionized the music industry by getting the music industry to sell songs for 99 cents each so that the iPod could take off. Opposite, opposite, opposite. Radical innovation.
Karla Nelson: Love it. Okay, so now let’s take a look at the obvious opposite process, and again we’re going to go through it step-by-step that you can use in order to develop a radical innovation.
So Allen, how about this. I’ll identify the steps and then you can identify, using a specific example that we use, the outcomes and objectives to each of the steps.
The first obvious opposite step is outcome. You have to start with a “Do what to whom” statement, an outcome that will do you the most good or solve the toughest problem that you’re trying to overcome at the time.
Allen Fahden: In that form let’s do as an example something that became kind of a cliché. So-and-so’s such a good salesperson they could sell refrigerators to Eskimos.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. Or ice either one, right? Same thing.
Allen Fahden: Or ice to Eskimos.
Karla Nelson: Something cold.
Allen Fahden: Yeah. Do what to whom? Sell refrigerators to Eskimos. That’s the outcome we want. Outcome number one.
Karla Nelson: Outcome and then the outcome objective is to have that statement, that statement that says do what to whom.
Then the next step is look at the obvious. Find the obvious beliefs about the statement with word associations. You think the same. Sky blue. Stove hot. Make this after you identify the obvious into a statement.
Allen Fahden: Yep. Key words are sell refrigerators to Eskimos. What’s obvious about refrigerators. Well, of course, refrigerators keep food cold, right? What’s obvious about Eskimos? They live in the North Pole, they live in the north.
Karla Nelson: They live where it’s cold.
Allen Fahden: Cold. Eskimos live in the north. Fine. That’s obvious. There’s no hope in these statements, right?
Karla Nelson: Right.
Allen Fahden: Nothing we can do here. It’s useless. How are we going to sell them a refrigerator? That’s crazy.
Karla Nelson: Then we go to-
Allen Fahden: So therefore step three is the key.
Karla Nelson: Yep. There you go. It’s opposites. Take the new associated word and then replace it with its exact opposite, just like Allen talked about in the One Book Bookstore. First obvious about bookstores, what’s the opposite would be no books, right?
Allen Fahden: Right.
Karla Nelson: A stove, for example, is cold, because we know, stove hot, but we switch it around and go, “Stove. A stove is cold.” You created a contradiction that in everyone’s mind is exactly opposite than their current state of belief.
Allen Fahden: That’s right, and by the way a stove is cold. When is a stove cold?
Karla Nelson: When it’s off.
Allen Fahden: And that’s most of the time, right? In fact, at my house it’s almost all the time, but I don’t want to get into my domestic problems.
Karla Nelson: Yep.
Allen Fahden: Let’s go back to refrigerators. Refrigerators keep food cold. What’s the opposite of cold?
Karla Nelson: Hot.
Allen Fahden: Refrigerators keep food hot. Okay? You write that down. That doesn’t make any sense at all, right? Next one. Eskimos live in the north. What’s the opposite of north?
Karla Nelson: South.
Allen Fahden: South. Okay. Again, Eskimos live in the south makes no sense, so that’s a contradiction in terms. We create a contradiction, that contradiction that forces you into the right brain because there’s no way the left brain is going to solve it, going to be able to process it.
Karla Nelson: You’re not even going to accept it. You’re going to reject it, right?
Allen Fahden: Instead of rejecting it, the opportunity is to do the opposite, embrace it. Refrigerators keep food cold. We go to oppo-tunity, how could this contradiction be true? I’m sorry. Refrigerators keep food hot. I’m sorry.
Karla Nelson: Hot.
Allen Fahden: How could this contradiction be true?
Karla Nelson: Exactly. The answer that you come up with, that’s what we call an oppo-tunity, an opposite and a great opportunity that comes from a unity of contradictions or a unity of opposites.
Allen Fahden: Yep. So refrigerators keep food hot. Let’s talk about a refrigerator. You’ve delivered it to the igloo. You find there’s no place to plug it in, so that’s a problem. You can’t even run the refrigerator so how are you going to get an Eskimo to buy one. So you say refrigerators keep food hot. The Eskimo orders a pizza and they’re not ready to eat it yet, so what do they do? They open the refrigerator door, throw it in there, the refrigerator’s insulated so the refrigerator keeps the pizza from freezing and it doesn’t get cold as fast. You keep your food warm, or you keep it hot in the refrigerator. That’s totally contradictory, but it’s practical.
Karla Nelson: And it gets you going on the right path. Obviously we’re using one extreme example just to run through the process. The biggest challenge in creating radical innovation and then implementing it is that every big idea is an opposite so it’s born just completely with too much wrong with it. Remember only 15 percent of the population will be up to an idea.
Allen Fahden: Eskimos live in the north. What’s the opposite of north? We said south. Eskimos live in the south. How could this be true? Well, this is very funny but I’ve told this to hundreds of people and they say, “Well, Eskimos can’t live in the south. They live in the North Pole. What are they going to do move to the South Pole?” Wait a minute, what’s the south? The south is everything that’s south of the North Pole. That’s the south, right? What if an Eskimo moves to Phoenix. “Oh, they couldn’t move to Phoenix. If you’re an Eskimo, well you have to be at the North Pole. You’re probably not an Eskimo anymore if you move.”
Karla Nelson: That’s not politically correct, Allen.
Allen Fahden: No. That’s like a Cheyenne or an Apache. You’re still a Cheyenne if you move to New York. So wouldn’t an Eskimo be an Eskimo in Phoenix, and instead of an igloo, they buy a condo. Well, couldn’t you sell them a refrigerator? I would think so. They’d have to keep food cold.
Karla Nelson: I love it. I love it.
So again, utilizing the opposite to get that right brain going and then figuring out how to solve that on an innovation side. We can’t get into leadership and implementation. We’ll do that on the next podcast. Up until this point there’s not process for implementing big ideas. The last step here, or step five, is the out-ovation. It’s not innovation until you get this accomplished and get it implemented. This means that the big idea, you have to utilize the process which we used, is the Who-Do Method, in order to go to the right person at the right time that’s going to say yes to an idea, and then help you get to that point of implementing it through the entire team, because remember, you have to have a mover, shaker, prover, maker.
Allen Fahden: Yep. You know, here’s the problem with an idea like selling refrigerators to Eskimos. Everybody, not everybody but we know half the population, provers and makers will look at that and say, “That’s ridiculous. What are you wasting your time on that for?”
Karla Nelson: I like when we teach it and you can tell the one that’s rolling their eyes about it before they actually use the process.
Allen Fahden: Yeah. But it’s an opportunity. Just imagine this. If you could, A, open a refrigerator dealership on the North Pole where a bunch of Eskimos live, look at the publicity you would get for that, right? It’s worth shipping a few refrigerators up to the North Pole. It wouldn’t cost you very much. Then also, you do an advertising campaign in Phoenix saying, “Attention Eskimos. Have we got a refrigerator for you,” something like that. You’re going to get people to notice you and if people don’t notice your business you’re out of business already.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. And the other aspect is what that would be, a big idea. What I was talking about before is that there’s two really big challenges with big ideas. First of all, if you’re late adopter’s saying it’s never going to work anyways, and then not running the process with your late adopters to get the buy-in, to get all that’s wrong with it or all the things that could go wrong with it dealt with in the ideation stage before you start spending time, money, energy, all these things that suck people dry.
Or, we talked about radical innovation. Well in the past, everyone’s focused on function management versus what we talk about which it’s dead, it should be dead, is role management. The difference is Steve Jobs goes in there. He’s a big mover-shaker, and he’s cramming this stuff down everybody’s throats. A lot of people were not happy with creating these radical innovations because it took so much out of them. It took the joy of doing the thing that they do best. It took the understanding of how different people are better at different things and the appreciation of that as well.
That’s why, I know we’ve referenced it several times in the podcast, that in the United States 70 percent of people hate their jobs and internationally it’s 89 percent of people go to work every day hating what they do. What does that do to performance?
Allen Fahden: Wow. Yep.
Karla Nelson: Insane when you think about it.
All right, so we’ll wrap this up here. Remember, the five steps from obvious to opposite, outcome, obvious, opposite, oppo-tunity, and outo-vation. In our next podcast Allen and I are going to go through out-ovation and that process of implementation and we’re going to talk about one of the biggest cliché words ever that has not made any progress in the last 50 years: leadership. What we’re going to talk about is everyone is a leader. We just lead at different times in the work. It’s necessary that we all get the chance to do the part of the work that we do best. For two reasons, number one, well, I love your happy better factor. Happier people, better results in a faster regard of getting that done.
Anything that you’d like to add here Allen as we wrap up?
Allen Fahden: No. I think it’s happy and leadership needs a big opposite and we’re going to give you one.
Karla Nelson: Awesome.
Allen Fahden: Next time.
Karla Nelson: Awesome. Thanks for joining us today-
Allen Fahden: Thank you.
Karla Nelson: -on this episode of the People Catalysts podcast, Logical Creativity.