There is more than one way to skin an innovation

There is more than one way to skin an innovation

Jerry Seinfeld was recently interviewed by HBR about his insights into innovation. He explained how “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” was developed for, and because of the emergence of new technology.

He went on to talk about the development of his award-winning, ground-breaking ‘Seinfeld’ series and explained “that it is very important to know what you don’t like” and that he believed “that a big part of innovation starts with someone saying ‘You know what I’m sick of’?’”.

It struck me that here was a first-rate innovator talking about innovation without mentioning the consumer, or viewer, in his case. Here was someone talking different ways in which innovation happens.

As a believer that there is rarely one right answer in marketing, it reminded me just how many different ways there are to inspire innovation, and I thought I would share a few stories to illustrate the point.

Sometimes you find what you’re not looking for

Viagra was originally designed to help with high blood pressure but test results were poor. Its real potential was discovered when the men in those tests were reluctant to return their remaining samples. They had discovered an interesting ‘side-effect’

Innovators find inspiration in the strangest of places

William Addis invented his toothbrush while in jail charged with starting a riot. It is said he was bored and inspired by a broom laying outside his cell. He realised that a smaller version of this might be better than the twigs people of his day chewed on to clean their teeth.

Innovation can start with technology as much as it can with the consumer

Having worked on the project that led to its inception, I can vouch that the starting point for McVities Caramels was United Biscuits’ new barrier technology. It meant that could bake even better biscuits.

Innovation can start with the brand

Lego watches weren’t invented because consumers were crying out for another children’s watch but as a suitable extension for a brand dedicated to creative construction.

Innovation can start with a sample of one

Steve Jobs didn’t think of himself as a true innovator he described himself as ‘tweaker’, combining different technology to create a computer that truly met one man’s needs – his own.

You can innovate by zigging when the world is zagging

LinkedIn was created because the original founders saw potential in social media but realised that like schoolboys everyone was rushing after the same ‘ball’ and targeting the same demographic. They decided there must be a market elsewhere and identified the business world as a prime candidate.

You can innovate by helping the one you love

In 1915 Mabel Williams was worried. She had heard whispers that her boyfriend was falling for another woman. She confided in her brother T.L. Now T.L. was a chemist and interested in cosmetics so he mixed coal dust and Vaseline. He told Mabel to apply the resulting concoction to her eyelashes to improve their colour and her overall look. Mabel then not only won Chet back, but the couple were married a year later. They went onto have three children and T.L went onto launch Maybelline.

Innovation comes in many different forms, from incremental to breakthrough. Inspiration for that innovation comes in many and very different ways, and while you always ultimately need to address a customer need, you don’t need to start with a customer insight.


Giles Lury Giles Lury TwitterLinkedIn