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  • Bring Innovation Back from the future

    10/12/2015

    On one of my recent travels I came across a short article in an airline magazine, briefly listing the many innovations predicted in the mid 80’s film series “Back to the Future”. Many of these innovative predictions have been or are about to be realized. They are very much part of our present day life, such as the hover-board, flying cars, smart watches, 3D movie technology, fingerprint ID, giant flat screen TV, and more. Other predictions of the movie were complete misses such as a fax machine built in the wall.

    Anyway, this inspired me to shed some light on what I believe are the 3 most common reasons behind successful innovations and causes of failed ones. First of all we need to find answers to these simple questions:

    1. How is it possible that one can make such groundbreaking and "accurate” predictions some thirty odd years ahead of time? And where does this creativity come from?
    2. Why do others with similar competence and intelligence not have this creative capacity to correctly predict future innovations?
    3. Why do some very smart innovations fail to make it to the market? 
    The short answer is: It’s all about mindset!
    But before I continue, I would like to quote the young Norwegian World chess champion Magnus Carlsen who, when asked about what is behind his creative artistry and success (reported in the same airline magazine), said:

    • "I usually surprise my opponents”.
    • "I overestimate my own abilities!” and adds "If you don’t overestimate your abilities several times over, you just see dangers and not possibilities, and if you doubt your abilities, you will never improve”.
    • "I enjoy reading about chess theory and chess history. And I remember what I read."

    I was surprised by the clear insight of this young master regarding creativity.


    The 3 "need to haves” to become a groundbreaker.

    1. Ask the right questions. 
    Don’t spend too much time trying to answer the What and How questions. Answering what to develop and how to develop it will only help you project from existing solutions. And you will probably not succeed in creating the groundbreaking innovation that you set out to do. Instead start by:

    • Tackling the What if and Why not questions, and in doing so you also need to:
    • Overestimate the ability of technology to provide you with solutions in the future. You will be surprised with what you come up with and you would definitely surprise your competitors if you manage to pull it off. 

    I think most of you remember not so many years ago when many companies were vigorously introducing new features into the mobile phones. Most companies got bogged down in solving the what and how questions; what can we do to keep the phone size small to fit in one hand and how do we add more buttons to the keyboard without further reducing the size of the screen. They came up with some smart ideas; miniaturize the key button and introducing a stick to press them (as our fingers would be too big to be useful); or make the keyboard slide out or flip out when using it and so on. 

    The Apple team on the other hand started by asking the question of:

    • What if we remove the keyboard all together, and:
    • Why not do that? They ended up surprising everybody with their smartphone, and the rest of the story is well known.

    2. Go wild but keep it real!
    To come up with the time’s wildest innovations, you need to mentally travel into the future where technology has made many breakthroughs regarding today´s constraints. And make sure that you do not take today´s products with you on this mental trip as they will limit your imagination. As mentioned before, overestimate what is possible but be careful not to go too far into the future to bring back innovations, because you might end up being well ahead of your time and fail to realize and make business out of these innovations. 

    The farther you go into the future, the wilder your predictions will be. And the less likely you will succeed, unless of course you only want to be remembered as the Nostradamus of your time.

    3. Have believers and enablers on your team.
    It´s one thing to creatively predict future innovations, it´s another to develop and be successful in commercializing them. For this you need the stubborn believer (entrepreneur) who:

    • Does not take no for an answer and:
    • Who has the stamina to keep riding through the hurdles until the sweet bitter end! 

    You also need the enabler who knows:

    • How it can be done and:
    • What has been done by others.
    • What is the state of the art, and:
    • What needs to happen for it to be possible, and finally:
    • How you go about to acquire the knowledge to pull it off.

    Oh, and remember!
    Whichever innovation you come up with, it should not go against physical laws of nature!

    What´s your best advice?
    Don´t hesitate to share your expertise by leaving a comment. Also feel free to share this post to make your own network happy.

    Sign up for a 15 minutes lunch webinar.
    Please register for our webinar about "how to become a groundbreaking innovator” on November 3, 2015 12:00 PM CEST at: 


    Attending this webinar will give you strategic as well as hands on tips and tricks on how to be successful when innovating. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

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