It's weird to me that larger companies are routinely being threatened by startups.
How is it that Tesla's first car, is generally considered to be the best car ever made? Why didn't Hertz create Uber or Zipcar? or Nokia the iPhone?
I've a feeling that companies with vast resources rely on assets, processes and efficiency, rather than having to dig deep into the last resort, thinking or creativity.Which is odd because process and efficiency is a sure fire way to tiny incremental gains, where paradigm shifts in improvement come from innovation.
I think this is why.
Generally in life, very big problems are assigned very big budgets. After all they are important.
Big budgets allow every type of solution. From small fixes, to huge constructions.
Big budgets lead to an environment of money, fear, risk aversion. They lead to large teams, format processes, big decisions, pressure on shoulders.
And it’s this precisely this culture and way of thinking that thinking and creativity suffer in.
Thinking is too cheap to be taken seriously, ideas seem flimsy in such a objective and formal atmosphere, creativity is too personal and any one of these outputs doesn’t feel tangible enough to be taken seriously.
Can you imagine the size of balls you must have to suggest to a CEO or Prime Minister or President that the answer to your massive transport problem with a $10bn budget is an $50,000 app. That the solution to education isn't billions on construction but a new aggregation engine. That the best way to deal with Global warming and extreme weather could be to adapt to the effects, not trillions on stopping the problem.
Can you imagine how vulnerable you must feel. How many people would be pissed off with you.
So when we think about the big needs of our time, whether it’s housing, public transport, healthcare, or infrastructure, we do remarkably little thinking. And use even less creativity.
Perhaps times are changing.
We’ve the trendy new movement of “growth hacking” being talked about in companies, although we don’t quite know what it is yet, because we’ve not really had the professionalism to define it, it feels like the right spirit.
It seem’s growth hacking is best described as a creative attitude, a focus on ways to solve problems ingeniously, when you have little money, likely little time, and a lot of guts and creativity.
In short, exactly what tends to never happen in many large companies or governments.
In such large bulky places where lazy thinking manifests there are three main behaviors that prevail:
1) We fail to define the problem.
2) We fail to establish the “altitude” of the problem
3) We later choose uncreative but physical solutions.
I) Failing to define the problem
A particular example would be HS2, the planned 300-mile high- speed rail link to connect London with major cities on either side of the Pennines to reduce travel time between London and Manchester from two hours to one, at a cost of about $100bn.
We have a very well defined solution, the routes been mapped out precisely, the stations have been tendered for, people have started to be paid compensation for disruption, but can we remember what the problem was?
Some seem to think that this is about providing extra capacity on a rail route due to likely increased passenger numbers between the two cities.
Other’s see this as a way to spread the economic prosperity of the South East to the North, while others believe it’s to reduce the need for domestic air travel.
Call me crazy, but a $100bn solution should have a pretty well defined problem. Above all else, how else do you measure the effectiveness?
II) Failing to Define the “Altitude” or Scope of the Problem
We need to determine whether it’s the right “altitude” of problem too. By this I mean at what layer are we to solve for? from what height do we approach it? what is our scope?
Increasing capacity on a railway line seems a lot less ambitious than spreading the economy around the country, it’s vital to know the level of the problem.
Increasing capacity is a more prosaic tactical affair, it could be solved by better signaling or longer trains.
Spreading wealth from the South East is a bolder aim, something worth more funding and that opens up way more opportunities to solve.
It sounds like something that redevelopment funds could accomplish.
Only by knowing the exact nature of the problem and its magnitude / altitude can we identify the right approach, and I fear that we haven’t done either.
III Hiding Under Expensive Physical Solutions
When assigned big budgets we look for big solutions and thus we arm ourselves with grand visions, large teams, we allow and expect long timelines.
The size and nature of the canvas thus describes the solution we paint.
In a “use it or lose it” environment, expensive solution inevitably come from big budgets, and who cares when it keeps everyone happy.
Senior staff would hate the vulnerability of establishing that the solution to a big problem is to be something cheap, effective but simple. Nobody got fired for buying an IBM, and everyone get’s fired for saying we don’t need a laptop.
IV The Result Our built environment is a celebration of rather boring, conventional thinking.
It’s not all wrong, but it seems like we favor unremarkable, engineering-driven solutions.
If the Euro Fighter project ($50bn ) and the Trident submarine ($125bn) are really about protecting our nation for the years 2030-2060, perhaps we should have spent longer understanding what likely future wars will be about and prepare for that?
It seems a bit odd that we're tooling ourselves up for a potential war that seemingly could only be against China. While asking them to build Nuclear power stations on our shores. Their are either the potential enemy or not, but let's not spend $175bn on intrinsically flawed logic.
It seems remarkably unlikely to most people that nuclear weapons and fighter planes will be of comfort in the wars of the future.
I don’t think we’ve had the smartest thinkers in the world gather together at at cost of 1/1000,000th the budget of the program, to discuss what the changing nature of war is, what drones could do, what satellite technology will mean, how to listen to people and engage people that could later become terrorists. Which realistically is the most pressing war like threat.
Some people say programs of this nature are more about injecting money into the economy, I’m fine with that, let’s “waste” money but build something more useful.
Samsung’s marketing is a similar affair, a company adorned with so much money that they fail to do anything remotely interesting, they spend money as compensation for the guilt of an unremarkable product and no clear product idea.
We’ve already built a High Speed train in the UK, a $10bn way to remove 30 mins from the journey to the South East, but they got so excited with building railway lines they forgot to add Wi-Fi and power sockets to the seats to make the journey productive.
We can get much better solutions to problems with thinking, but thinking is too cheap, imagination is too intangible, creativity is subjective.
What if we expected creativity to be our golden bullet?
What if we actively sought to research all possibilities, project the future, consider what a world of more imaginative solutions could be like.
PERHAPS growth hacking can be the term we start to leverage to make that happen.