Innovating by Going Backwards


Innovation always moves forward, right?

Well, not necessarily.

I’ve been working really hard recently on a new version of The Innovation Matrix (more on that soon!), and one of the tools that I’ve been using is Artefact Cards.  They’re a pretty cool method for capturing ideas, and I initially used them to help myself figure out the story.  Here’s what they look like:

But after I worked out the latest version of the matrix, I realised that they were actually a pretty cool presentation tool.  When I’m testing the new version with people in a one-to-one setting, I just lay out the cards as I tell the story – it ends up looking a bit like this:

For larger groups, I’ve done something weirder.  I’ve taken pictures of each individual cards, along with some groups of cards.  Then I’ve downloaded those to my laptop and turned them into a slide deck.  This is what I use for public talks.

Every single time I’ve shown either the physical cards or the deck to people, I’ve gotten comments about them.  The overwhelming response is that they are very cool, and very innovative.  Not everyone is impressed by my artwork though – on one of the cards my friend Kate looked at it and said “Is that a bunny??”  Several people have asked if I’ve been making them on an iPad, or with some other drawing software.  When I show them the physical cards, they’re surprised.

Think about that for a bit – drawing crude pictures with a sharpie onto paper, and showing them to people is innovative!

There are a some interesting ideas that come from this:

  • Sometimes you can innovate by going back to older technology. In the 1970s, Canon and Ricoh nearly put Xerox out of business using photocopier technology that was 20 years old.  Innovation isn’t an endlessly forward march of progress.  We can innovate with business models, and with ideas – and these often support “old” or out-of-date technology.  Sometimes going backwards is the best way to make a jump.
  • There’s still space for craft. That’s why Dan Roam has been so successful with his Back of the Napkin work. Check out Sacha Chua’s awesome sketchnotes for another great example.  While scalable business models are attractive, I’m still strongly attracted to craft-based businesses.  We can innovate in both spaces – as long as we do awesome work.
  • Changing the tools you use to think can change your ideas.  Like Nilofer, I think by writing.  But by changing the tools I was using to think about the Innovation Matrix, I have actually come up with a string of new ideas.  Changing your tools can change your ideas.
  • Novelty attracts attention. I haven’t been surprised by the response to the cards when I use them in person.  But I have been surprised by how much people like the slide version.  In part, this is probably a “powerpoint, powerpoint, NOT-powerpoint” thing.  Novelty attracts attention.
  • Delivering value is what keeps attention.  The novelty helps me connect with people, but I still have to do awesome work to keep their attention.  If you’re not delivering value, then getting the attention in the first place is a waste of everyone’s time.

The response to the method of delivery has been great, but the response to the content has been even better.  I’m not sure that it’s awesome work yet, but it’s moving in the right direction.  I’m looking forward to telling you about the fantastic collaboration that’s going on with the new version, and to showing you what it looks like.

In the meantime, I’ve got to go redraw the thing that looks like a bunny…

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Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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