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Creative Genius - an interview with Peter Fisk


Interview by: Giles Metcalfe

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Peter FiskPeter Fisk is a best-selling author and inspirational speaker, an advisor to leading companies large and small, and himself an experienced business leader. He is an expert on strategy and innovation, brands and marketing, and has worked with companies including Coca Cola and Microsoft, Red Bull and Virgin.

He leads the GeniusWorks, a business dedicated to inspiring business leaders to think differently, and was also the transforming CEO of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He was recently described by Business Strategy Review as “one of the best new business thinkers.”

He is the author of five bestselling books, which have been translated into 32 languages. His new book Creative Genius describes a process of accelerated innovation, bringing together rockstars and rocket scientists, entrepreneurs and designers to understand how to make better ideas happen faster.

Find out more at or email him at [email protected]

What was the background to you writing Creative Genius?

Peter Fisk:

I was astounded by Leonardo da Vinci. From sculpture to geometry, anatomy to mechanics, he embraced the border crossing principles of the Italian Renaissance to transform art and science.

400 years before Newton, 200 years before Corpernicus, from helicopters and submarines, he saw things differently – placing context above subject, recognising the power of paradox and parallels, embracing fusion and design. He was a man truly ahead of his time, and he can impart lessons that are relevant to business today.

How do you view things now?

We live in what you might call a VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Nothing is certain anymore. And the strategies, products and business models which have made our businesses great are by no means passports to future success. We need to think more openly, more discontinuously.

But it depends on how you see things … VUCA can also mean Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy and Astounding … welcome to a physical and virtual hybrid, where power has fundamentally shifted, geography is irrelevant, as are most of the other rules of the industrial age. This is a world full of technicolour opportunities ready to be exploited by those with sufficient boldness and imagination.

Today’s winning companies think differently. They have bigger ambitions, more innovative strategies, and take bolder actions. From Apple to Zappos, Air Asia to Virgin Galactic, they have embraced a more innovative approach to every aspect of their businesses.

In what way?

The best companies see things differently, and think different things.

  • These companies understand the wider impact they can have, on customers and society more generally … how they can enable people to do more, and ultimately make life better.
  • They recognise that competitive advantage is about being different, not just through stronger brands and better products, but by understanding the future better than others.
  • They value ideas and innovation as the essence of business … shaping markets in their own vision, rather than living in the shadow of others.

Coming back to the background the book, for me, innovation is my first love, and so Creative Genius is the book I have always wanted to write. From nuclear physics to managing the Concorde brand, I have had a yin-yang business career, working with some of the world’s biggest and most entrepreneurial businesses. Each experience offers something new, and it is the fusion of these insights and ideas which is most inspiring.

Who should read it, and why?

Peter Fisk:

Creative Genius sets out to be “the essential innovation for business leaders, border crossers and game changers”. It’s for people who want to do more – to take their business to a new level, to develop ideas beyond our current imagination, and to make things happen, that have never been done before.

Big ambitions, I know … But why else do we lead a business, embark on new projects, or study to improve ourselves?

The book is intellectually stretching and stimulating – it doesn’t try to be too academic or technical, but it does explore the most detailed approaches – the creative journeys of Steve Jobs to iPad and Richard Branson to space travel, the intriguing principles of Clay Christensen’s disruption and John Maeda’s simplicity, juxtaposed with the disciplined processes from NASA to 3M, and the rigorous demands of venture capitalists and stock markets.

Creative Genius is for:

  • Leaders who seek a new perspective, have bolder ambitions, and want to create step-changes in their business performance.
  • Managers who want to drive innovation in every aspect of what they do, to embrace creativity, design and accelerate ideas to market.
  • Entrepreneurs who seek inspiration and direction, into a how the business world is not just about money, but a fantastically exciting voyage of discovery.

What surprised you the most when researching it?

Peter Fisk:

Whilst innovation is so often called the lifeblood of organizations - the top priority when talking to investors, the rallying call of leaders - inside the vast majority of organizations it goes little beyond the brainstorm. What amazed me of many of the companies I visited was the lack of disciplined innovation strategy, process and co-ordination. Too often it is still seen as focused only on products, a subordinate activity of marketing, a 'nice to have'. People are confused between creativity, and design, and innovation.

What surprised me even more is the speed of change in the outside world. Coke is tinkering with its flavours, Microsoft preparing for its next release, even Apple on its relentless gravy-train of fantastic devices, the world is moving ever faster.

Small companies understand the scale and direction of the changing world better than large companies, particularly in the emerging markets of Asia and South America where networks and technologies enable the tiniest business, with the brightest brains, to out-think and out-manoeuvre the lumbering supertanker of the last century who are caught between old and new markets, legacy capabilities and future opportunities.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was how much business can learn from other areas.

Lady Gaga might seem a youthful irrelevance to many business leaders – but consider how she came from nowhere to global dominance in 24 months. On the very week that Lehman Brothers crashed amidst financial crisis, Stefani Gremanotta, and her mentor Akon, were launching The Fame Monster. Bold and provocative, maybe even mind bending, she harnessed the world of social media and digital downloads to make herself a global superstar. What could your business learn from her?

Add many others to this. What could you learn from Damian Hirst about contextual pricing? How can you resolve a paradox like rocket man Burt Rutan? And when science says no, like it did to Zaha Hadid when designing the London 2012 Aquatics Centre, how can you overcome the challenge? What is the secret of fusion according to Sir Paul Smith? And when it comes to social impact, look east to the fabulous business model of Aravind Eye Care, or west to the social renaissance inspired by the Guggenheim.

These are just some of the more inspiring stories I came across.

You say, “Reductionism, incrementalism and efficiency: the enemies of effective innovation in business today”. Can you expand on this for us?

Peter Fisk:

Fisk 1Markets are changing at such incredible pace, with fundamental shifts in culture and technology, attitudes and expectations. Consumers are in control, and it’s not how big you are, but who has the best ideas.

From west to east, big to small, business to consumer … the hot fashions are in Buenos Aires, the best green tech is in Shanghai, the top web designers in Mumbai, and the most venture capital in Shenzhen.

Are you focused on the big opportunities? Over the next 5 years, female consumers will grow faster than China … by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices, creating an intelligent cloud accessible to everyone anytime. By 2025, the economies of the E7 will be bigger than the G7, renting will replace buying, water will be the new gold … and so on …

Too often, we have our heads down in our spreadsheets – trying to optimize what we do, reducing the costs, improving the margins, enhancing the product or service levels. Doing things right, but are we doing the right things? As a scientist I appreciate the quest for optimization … the precision of segmentation, the productivity of supply chains, balancing portfolios and scorecards, budgets and service levels, net promoter scores and stock prices.

Working harder rather than working smarter. Extending life rather than creating new. Imitating others rather than thinking differently… We have become too left-brained for our own good – analytical, logical, reductionist. We need to re-engage our right brains too – become intuitive, holistic and exploratory.

Why should we “embrace paradox”?

Peter Fisk:

Paradoxes throw up some of the best opportunities for innovation. They emerge when something currently seems contradictory, incompatible, not possible.

  • Nintendo Wii resolved the paradox of playing computer games (geeky, unhealthy, antisocial) and being good for you (socialising, healthy, sporty).
  • Swatch resolved the paradox of having a cool, high-quality, designer watch, but still be so affordable that you can buy a new one every year.
  • Tesla is resolving the paradox of how to have an environmentally friendly, electric or hybrid car, but still have the speed and styling of a Ferrari.

Setting out to resolve a paradox requires new thinking, to challenge the conventions that led to its inherent conflict, and to explore how a positive combination of two opposites could be valuable.

What, for you, are the five factors that will define the future of businesses?

Peter Fisk:

Success in the 20th century was characterised by size and scale, in the 21st century it is defined by ideas and impact. The five factors that will define the future of business are

  1. Ideas. The new currency of success – individual and collective imagination is determined by how well a business seeks and stimulates them from many different sources, including customers and partners, how well a business connects them together into richer concepts, and then is able to turn them into distinctive realities that are practical and profitable.
  2. Purpose. In a world of infinite possibilities, any business can do anything. Capabilities can easily be sourced, and any audience reached. Therefore rather than being defined by what you do, a business needs a better sense of being – a more inspiring purpose. Beyond the pursuit of profits, what is the distinctive way in which the business seeks to make life better?
  3. Networks. The ability to connect markets with infinite reach, to connect people with people rather than just with companies, enabling collaboration like never before - enabling audience and content, interaction and involvement. The most authentic content is user-generated, the best marketing is word of mouth – digital and physical, low cost and more trust, fast and global.
  4. Enablement. Brands are not about what business does, but what customers aspire to achieve. Products and service are not about sales transactions, but about what they enable the customer to do, which they were never able to do before. Build your own house, design your own website, run faster, enjoy life more. It’s all about enabling people to do more.
  5. Innovation. Relentless, significant, and holistic. The ability to continually renew itself will be the ability of a future business – to anticipate and respond to accelerating change, to embrace new technologies and behaviours, to collaborate with partners and customers, and to balance development with delivery, ideas with impact, purpose with profit.

Can you define your concepts of ‘future back’ and ‘now forward’?

Peter Fisk:

Fisk 2Start with the impossible than work out how to make it possible.

“Future back” is about leaping into the future, to imagine more clearly what it might be like, without the prejudices and limitations of today, and then work backwards to connect it to the present world.

“Now forward” is about taking decisions, investments and innovative actions that are guided by a better view of their implications and what will happen next, and innovate less restricted by what we currently know, think and do.

This was the real genius of da Vinci, but can equally be seen in the bagless vacuum cleaner of James Dyson, the Virgin Galactic space ship designs of Burt Rutan, or the electric charging networks of Better Place. Dyson was relentless in his experimenting and prototyping until he broke all the rules of his market. Rutan played with paper aeroplanes to perfect his idea of a mothership launch pad, whilst Shai Agassi has a vision where electric cars will be the norm, and the person who runs the charging network will dominate the market.

You quote an interesting statistic in the book, “3M estimates that it needs around 3000 clearly specified ideas, from which emerge around 300 prototypes, from which they get 30 strong concepts, which are eventually whittled down to three market entries, in order to get one successful innovation”. Why do so many ideas fail?

Peter Fisk:

Many ideas fail because

  1. They are not relevant – they are driven by technological possibility, rather than potential consumer demand, they are designed scientifically rather than ergonomically, they are focused on their function not their differentiation, on the product not what it enables. Innovation starts with the customer, not always what they need or can even articulate, but with a clearly defined way in which they will add practical, relevant value to people’s lives.
  2. They were not big enough – ideas need to be big enough to withstand the inevitable practical and commercial filters put on them, to outweigh the risks and uncertainties which they inevitably bring, and to stand out from the crowd and support and price premium. Bigger ideas emerge from the fusion of smaller ideas, so the real story is not always about eliminating the ideas, but about connecting them like molecules to create something better and stronger.
  3. Market entry is seen as the end point – all the brain power and resources goes into getting the new idea to market, to launching it. But that is just the starting point. More important to the success is how it penetrates the market, moves from early adopters to mainstream, how people use it rather than just buy it, what they say together and how reputation spreads. Sustaining an innovation in its first year is perhaps the most important, and most neglected phase.
  4. Creating a profitable business model – most creative effort still goes into the product, less into the service, even less into the channel and broader customer experience, and hardly any thinking goes into the business model. The old make and sell model is increasingly irrelevant. Leasing, subscription, replacement are all increasingly popular models – why buy a car when there is Zipcars, why buy a magazine when I can subscribe online, and so on. There is an inverse relationship between the types of innovation, and the impact they can have.

But having said all that, 3M has a good, disciplined innovation process. Imagine if you had a less good one – even more failures. The reality is that you need an awful lot of ideas in order to find success. James Dyson had well over 5000 prototypes before finding the right solution.

Most people just don’t spend enough time generating enough ideas – a quick brainstorm with 20 random ideas in 30 minutes is certainly not enough. A one-day team workshop is not enough either. The ideas are just starting to flow when everyone goes home.

Innovation is serious business. It needs real effort, hard work, time, and lots and lots of ideas, together with a disciplined process to make them happen.

What are the ‘opening up and closing down’ processes?

Peter Fisk:

Fisk 3“Opening up” is the creative process of generating as many ideas as possible.

The phase inevitably, and quite acceptably, starts with a bit of fuzziness. This is because the first creative challenge is to define the question – the problem or opportunity to be addressed. Whilst a leader, or sponsor, might state it upfront, it is often what sits behind that is more interesting. Therefore spending a bit of time exploring, shaping, even redefining the question is good.

Once we have a clear starting point, then it’s about opening up as far as possible on this. A wide range of creative techniques exist to explore the obvious possibilities, and then the less obvious ones. A quick brainstorm is certainly not enough. The challenge is to be divergent. Learn from the margins not the mainstream, from parallel markets that have similar situations, from nature, or sport, or the arts.

“Closing down” is when we start focusing in on the best ideas. This is achieved in two principle ways – by fusing together ideas into stronger concepts, and through filtering these concepts. A range of different evaluation filters should be used to find the strongest ideas, but care should be taken to ensure that old-mindset filters don’t block out new possibilities

For example, a concept might never be a big revenue driver, but maybe given away free and with the support of a business model based around advertising, it could be very successful - online gaming for example, refillable cartridges, or razor blades.

Innovation is about making ideas happen profitably, creative and commercial, and is therefore an opening up and closing down process.

What are the “three levels of innovation intensity”?

Peter Fisk:

The intensity of innovation relates to how ambitious it is - how much time and resource, cost and risk it embraces – and how greater impact we seek in the market and bottom line as a result. There are three levels of innovation intensity

  • Incremental: innovation as improvement, keeping pace with change and expectation, adapting designs and applications to evolving needs. In the car market we see a new version of the same car emerging frequently, maybe with slightly enhanced features.
  • Next generation: innovation as change, moving ahead of the competition to define a new level of performance, tapping into emerging needs and exceeding expectations. In the car market, this is a significantly new model, launched every few years, with a new brand name.
  • Breakthrough: innovation as revolution, changing the rules of the market, challenging the behaviours of customers, maybe redefining the market altogether – “game-changing”. In the car market, this is the SUV or the hybrid engine, creating a new genre, a new category.

You need all of these innovations – a balanced portfolio of innovation projects at each level being developed simultaneously. Incremental innovations keep you in the market, little noticed and quickly imitated. Next generations get you ahead for a short-time, maybe opening up a new revenue stream. Breakthroughs are what make you famous, shaping your markets. They inspire customers, attract investors, and deliver leaps in value creation.

What is the ‘Genius Lab’?

Peter Fisk:

When I work with organizations today, I focus on facilitating and accelerating their innovation process. We use a process of three intensive two-day workshops. During each workshop, with a cross-functional team of their most interesting people and some outsiders too, we focus on what matters, what’s possible, and what extra-ordinary (yes, anything but ordinary) things they can do, in extra-ordinary ways. We capture the insights and ideas, decisions and plans in words and pictures, photos and movies, leaving the teams to do their specific tasks, before we meet again.

Fisk 4The three phases of “The Genius Lab” defines the majority of the Creative Genius book – the Ideas Factory, the Design Studio and the Impact Zone. An apparently simple process, but with much underneath – taking ideas from the future back, as well as the inside out and outside in, using left- and right-brain approaches, creativity and innovation, in order to make the best ideas happen “now forward” and to deliver extraordinary results.

Phase 1: The Ideas Factory

This is about insights and ideas – from the future, in partnerships with customers and experts, and our own imagination – from which we develop understanding and inspiration, direction and hypothesises.

We explore the possibilities, based on future scenarios, customer immersion, parallel worlds, emerging trends and creative ideas. Insights emerge out of the collation of knowledge from different perspectives - “flashes of inspiration” or “penetrating discoveries” – which are then fused with creative thinking.

Insights are much more than information, and create new platforms from which to generate stronger ideas. Ideas are much more than actions, but concepts for making life better. By understanding the problem or opportunity better, we have more chance of creating successful solutions. By focusing on real insights, we develop better ideas that are distinctive and powerful.

Phase 2: The Design Studio

This is about creativity and design – shaping the best ideas into more concepts that are compelling, practical and profitable – articulating, testing and evaluating each of the best concepts.

We work at the best ideas and hypothesises – reframing the context in which they are positioned, fusing ideas together into richer molecular structures, considering the function and form of these bigger ideas, enhancing their practical usability and aesthetic appeal.

Concepts work beyond products and services - they emerge as propositions, solutions and experiences, perhaps requiring new business and market models. It is then about evaluating each of the best concepts for their value potential for customers and business, how they will make people’s lives better, and how we can make them happen distinctively and profitably.

Phase 3: The Impact Zone

This is about development and commercialisation – making the ideas happen, launching them into the right markets, making them contagious and sticky, and ensuring they deliver sustained results.

We creatively focus on the opportunities that will deliver the most return, the best markets, customers, and solutions. Don’t try to do everything for everyone, do things which are significantly different and better. And we don’t stop at market entry - that is the starting point for bringing ideas to life, changing people’s attitudes, encouraging new behaviours.

Delivering sustained results is about finding space in the market that you can make your own, defend and grow. That is achieved by telling your story, in ways that are compelling and contagious, and shaping markets in your own mind rather than being a slave to somebody else’s vision, stretching and evolving ideas so that can have even more impact, and stay a step or two ahead.

You posit eight ‘worldviews’ to give us new perspectives on age-old problems and opportunities. What are they, and how can we apply them?

Peter Fisk:

Innovation requires new perspectives - finding new insights, better ideas and the best opportunities. Whilst the future offers most stretch forwards, there are many other perspectives, or worldviews, worth considering – separately and then collectively considering the viewpoints of customers, business, competitors, parallel markets, technology, responsibility, finance and the future.

The eight “worldviews” to help us see problems and opportunities in broader, richer and new perspectives are:

  1. Future world – exploring future scenarios based on emerging trends, pattern recognition and random possibilities that might be driven from science or sci-fi.
  2. Customer world – exploring the needs and wants of diverse individuals, their experience of you and your competitors, their frustrations and aspirations, trust and loyalty.
  3. Business world – exploring the drivers of business performance, key issues and opportunities, assets and capabilities, assumptions and employee ideas.
  4. Competitor world – exploring the strengths and weaknesses, postures and differences, strategies and potential actions of direct and indirect competitors.
  5. Parallel world – exploring how companies in different markets address, or have addressed similar issues; who won and who lost, and what did they do; and even extreme situations.
  6. Technological world – exploring the emerging fields such as networking technologies, computing, mobile technologies, artificial intelligence, biotech and nanotech.
  7. Responsible world – exploring the increasingly vital issues of environment, ethical practices, fair trading, human rights, local communities, well-being and transparency.
  8. Commercial world – exploring the consequences of changing price, costs, profits, market share and the wider implications of changing regulation, governance and competition.

These perspectives provide a wealth of discontinuous and complementary insights. They can also be fused with existing knowledge – customer behaviour, market research, employee surveys, boardroom thinking, business performance, industry reports, technological insights, analyst reports, and catalytic thinkers.

What is ‘getting out there’, and why is it important for the innovation process?

Peter Fisk:

“Getting out there” means rolling up your sleeves and spending time in the market, watching and talking with real people to understand the issues and opportunities in more detail. It might include

  • Customer immersion – spending time (a day, a week, even longer) with real customers, and non-customers, not just asking them what they think of you, or want – but observing how they live and work, talking about their motives and influences, understanding their issues and aspirations. This is much more insightful than superficial average-seeking market research.
  • Business partners – likewise spending time with suppliers, distributors, existing and potential product and service partners who currently or could serve the same customers.
  • Specialist experts – likewise learning from academics, technologists, extreme users and others.
  • Parallel markets – likewise learning from companies in other markets, geographies or sectors, which have similar issues or have been through the same change. Banks learning from retailers, telecoms learning from energy. Ask to meet with your peers in non-competitive companies from these other markets, to learn what happened, and how to succeed.
  • Marginal markets – likewise learning from related markets where people have been more deviant, for example they have improvised because of lack of resources, or they are adopters of more advanced or deviant behaviours – m-Pesa in Africa, skateboarders in inner cities, fashion from junk shops.
  • Random inspiration – sometimes just do something a little less normal. Get the perspective of somebody completely different, read a magazine you’ve never read before.

You talk of the hidden patterns that are all around us, and of blinkered, reactionary thinking, that blinds people to subtle shifts in the zeitgeist. Can we train our minds to be more open and recognize these patterns and trends?

Peter Fisk:

In simple terms, it’s about spending more time with our heads up, rather than heads down. More time out there in the world where customers live, rather than inside our business. Think about what you watch on TV, where you shop, what you read. And be more observant, more curious.

I am intensely curious. Yes, I can travel to places all around the world, talk to an eclectic range of people, and wonder the towns and cities with eyes open. But it can also be close to home. Watch the Simpsons or Al Jazeera news, read New Scientist or a range of online blogs, download some TED Talks or some interesting looking apps.

Jeff Bezos, Ratan Tata, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson … they all say that their secret is to be intensely curious. They deliberately take themselves out of their normal spaces, to meet new people, to be inspired by new environments. They take a notebook everywhere they go, they draw pictures rather than write words, they talk and think, and try to make sense of change.

More tangibly, a range of future scoping and pattern recognition tools helps to make sense of weak and strong signals – bringing together all the little behaviours and fads to interpret fashions, and likewise looking at the broader direction of fashions to understand trends.

A whole industry exists on trying to decode such patterns – from the Institute for the Future, to Trendwatching, Now and Next to The Future Exploration Network. Of course, the challenge is not just to observe a whole range of behaviours, adding fun names, but to find real insight, implications and opportunities.

How can scenario planning support managers?

Peter Fisk:

Fisk 5Scenario planning is built on systems thinking, the recognition that many factors may combine in complex ways to create surprising futures due to the non-linear “feedback loops” of causes and effects. Rather than just simulating futures based on today’s factors, scenarios can also embrace new factors – new technologies, deep shifts in social values, new regulation or disruptive innovations. Systems thinking used in conjunction with scenario planning leads to plausible “stories” based on relationships between the many factors.

The process starts with two types of knowledge - things we believe we know something about, and things we don’t. The first type of knowledge, typically in the form of trends, is based on projecting the past into the future – demographic shifts, emerging technologies. The second type of knowledge, the uncertainties include factors such as interest rates, fads and fashions, and politics. The art of scenario development is in blending of known and unknown knowledge into a limited number of views of the future that together embrace a very wide range of possibilities.

The process helps managers to make better decisions

  • Where are the biggest challenges and opportunities likely to emerge, and what factors will be most important in shaping them?
  • What are the risks and rewards of seeking a particular direction, how can I mitigate these risks and what other options exist?
  • Which scenarios do I like best, do I want to make happen, and how can I shape it to my advantage through actions and investments today?

I want to take a ‘deep dive’ into a ‘blue ocean’ – should I pack scuba gear? Do I need to be wary of 'sharks' if I go swimming in a ‘red ocean’?

Peter Fisk:

Yes, but before you start pulling on your swimming gear…

  • Blue oceans” are the new or unexploited marketspaces that lie beyond the conventional domains. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne have created a whole industry out of getting companies to look beyond the "red oceans", the hyper-competitive battle grounds of today, to find new customer needs and wants.
  • Deep diving” is a research approach that immerses yourself (and a team of dreamers, decision makers, and doers) into the new spaces, to understand them more deeply – what people really want, why and how. Conventional research is not enough because people cannot rationalize the unrealized. Tesco’s leaders, for example, spent three months living with families in North America to understand the unique family lifestyles, influences and culture, before attempting to open a new range of supermarkets called Fresh n Easy.
  • Sharks” are the big companies who want to reach these new waters. But they often need help, from smaller specialist companies who are local or know the uncharted territories better. Rather than the huge time, risk and costs of entering new markets in total, better is to find yourself a “pilot fish”, one of these companies who can do things you can’t, but work with you. Likewise for small businesses, finding your partner shark is a great way to reach places you couldn’t ever get to otherwise. Think about Intel, YKK, Hella, Lycra and more.

What is your view on ‘open innovation’ and ‘co-creation’?

Peter Fisk:

Open innovation is a popular theme, every company is talking about it, every academic even more so. It isn’t that magical, or that difficult, but it can deliver more interesting results and should be an essential part of any innovation programme.

It is simply about opening your mind, and opening your doors, to ideas and capabilities from other places – from customers, from suppliers, from partners, from academics, from entrepreneurs. The mental shift is that you don’t know best, and it’s just possible that having lived and breathed your market, you might actually be less able to innovate within it than somebody who brings new experiences and perspectives. As well as collaborative creativity and development, it’s also about shared risk and reward.

Co-creation is one component of open innovation.

Lego Factory is a co-creation facility, physical and online, where consumers work with others, and the building-block designers to build future products. Ducati’s Tech Cafe is where bikers hang out and design the next generation of superbikes. IBM’s Innovation Centres are where clients run facilitated innovation programmes, and Samsung has a Virtual Product Launch Center (sic) where you can find the coolest newest devices.

Whilst some companies have hi-jacked the “co-creation” word to redefine customer research techniques such as focus groups and immersion, others recognise that it is a bigger approach, engaging customers as partners in a journey from ideas to implementation.

  • Co-thinking. Working with customers to understand their needs and wants, but also to develop new ideas and possibilities, using collaborative creativity techniques. This is similar to “crowdsourcing”, but more personal. P&G take consumers away to hotels for weekends, or go to their kitchens, to explore better ways to do washing or cleaning.
  • Co-designing. Problem-solving together, by better defining the issues and potential solutions, maybe encouraging people to submit new designs both in terms of the business, and the style of products in the way Threadless rewards the best submitted t-shirt designs, or Jones Soda prints your photos on their bottle labels.
  • Co-evaluating. Testing ideas with customers, building advance customer networks, getting their feedback for improvement whilst also turning them into lead-user ambassadors. This might involve extreme users, for example Nike working with elite athletes to evaluate new shoes designs, or Gore working on new fabrics with emergency services.
  • Co-developing. Customers can be as skilled and fanatical as your own technicians in being able to develop better products, or specify better services. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was developed in partnership with customers, Nike ID design studio is at the heart of Niketown, and IKEA “allow” you to find your products in the warehouse, and build them yourself.
  • Co-communicating. Customers can be your best, and more trusted, advocates. They might write reviews on your website, or on other directory sites such as hotel customers on Tripadvisor. They might even develop user-generated advertising for you, like those made possible with Scrmblr, and demonstrated by Converse’s social ads campaigns.
  • Co-selling. People are much more likely to buy from friends and others like them, rather than some anonymous salesman. “Customer get customer” in return for a case of wine or iPod is familiar to us all, as is the pyramid selling models championed by Avon and Oriflame, which has even turned some of their most active customers into millionaires.
  • Co-supporting. When something goes wrong, particularly when trying to use technological devices, you need help and fast. User guides are gobbledegook, so you get online and ask other users for help. Apple have utilised user communities to great effect, ensuring that you get an answer to your question in minutes and in language you actually understand.

Co-creation is a creative process, tapping into a diversity of customer backgrounds and utilizing a range of innovation techniques. It also needs to be facilitated carefully as it opens your business to customers in a way they have never seen before, so professionalism and reputation still need to be managed. It also helps you build relationships that no longer depend on direct mail or loyalty cards.

Can you define ‘Koinonia’ for us?

Peter Fisk:

“Koinonia” is about mutuality, intimacy and participation, and about achieving more together.

Choosing the right partners for development or distribution gives you the flexibility and reach, capabilities and courage to thrive in fast changing markets. Partners might offer some specialist component to your solution, essential to your success – the high-speed, ever-smaller microprocessor from Intel, for example. Or they might complement what you do in some way – such as Rolls Royce engines being an essential part of the Boeing design and manufacturing process.

Partners might improve your access to the market – such as iPhone working with exclusive network partners such as AT&T and O2 for the first few years after launch. Or they might make your brand more compelling and relevant to your target audience - such as famous designers working with H&M to improve their designs, but also to hugely enhance your brand kudos.

Few companies can survive, and even fewer thrive, without partners today. Such partnerships are rarely formalised as companies, not even joint ventures which they tended to be in the past. Increasing confidence in working with others, means that most companies are now happy to work contractually but not structurally together.

Licensing and franchising, brand alliances and affinity brands, endorsement and ingredient brands, exclusive distributors and guest designers, these are the new models of partnership which we explore and compare in Creative Genius.

What is the ‘hype cycle’?

Peter Fisk:

The “hype cycle” was developed by Gartner to reflect the evolution and adaption of specific technologies. Since 1995, it has been used to characterize the typical over-enthusiasm or "hype" and subsequent disappointment that typically happens with the introduction of new technologies. The real purpose of the cycle, however is to separate the hype from the technology’s more useful reality. The curves also show how and when technologies move beyond the hype, moving from abstract possibilities into relevant innovations, offering practical benefits and become much more widely accepted.

In Creative Genius I explore the five phases to Gartner’s hype cycle:

  1. Technology trigger – the first phase after technological breakthrough, product launch or other events that generates significant press and interest.
  2. Peak of inflated expectations - a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations, perhaps with a few successful applications.
  3. Trough of disillusionment – technologies lose their shine, they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable, and the press usually abandon them.
  4. Slope of enlightenment – whilst the hype has blown over, some businesses continue to explore the technology, to understand the benefits and practical applications.
  5. Plateau of productivity – the technology becomes robust and accepted, evolving into second and third generations, the height of the plateau depending on whether it has broad or niche application.

Your book contains many examples of hand-drawn-style diagrams that describe processes and concepts. Do you advocate a move away from PowerPoint decks and written reports?

Peter Fisk:

Yes, indeed I do!

Every business case at P&G must be expressed on one page. Words are not enough. Posters become the new medium for conveying ideas – visions, diagrams, mind maps, flow charts, business models and more.

We talked about blinkered, “heads down” thinking, about being unable to escape the conventions of today, and death by incrementalism… long written reports, and monotonous bullet pointed slides are symptoms of this world.

Forget flipcharts and use Lego for a creative break. Get people to build models that reflect the problem they are trying to solve, or the idea they want to express. The models will be bad, and funny. But that lightens the spirit and loosens people up. It’s what they say, and how it helps the team think, that matters more.

Time to express yourself, your ideas, your passions, your creativity … think carefully about the words and images you use, because they matter. But most of all, focus on the idea and how you can shape it, own it and make it happen.

Finally, are there any closing comments you would like to make?

Peter Fisk:

I love this book. I loved researching, writing and re-reading every page of it.

There are hundreds of amazing entrepreneurs and innovators out there, each with a great story and something we can learn from them.

I hope that Creative Genius inspires you to think differently, to use your imagination with more confidence – to shape your future, and start making it happen – to deliver better ideas, faster innovations and extraordinary impact.

Will you be the Leonardo da Vinci of our times?

Find out more at or email him at [email protected]