June 5, 2015

Innovation: just because you can, does not mean you should !


At Hirsch & Mann we get a lot of organisations approach us asking ‘can you do this?’. We are known for our ability to craft technology experiences that combined with a hugely optimistic team driven by an attitude of damn right we can (as well as amazing amount of talent) the answer is always yes.  But the reality is we are designers at heart and the response is always ‘we can, but should we?’.

Technology is amazing, I live and breath by it everyday as I am sure all readers here do. What interests me is the affect it has on people’s behaviour and attitudes. I met Bill Buxton the head of research at Microsoft about 8 years ago (he looks like Doc from Back to the Future and acts like him as well.)  He told me something that has stuck with me ever since. Michael if you want to know what is going to be big in 10 years time, look back to what was invented 10 years ago. He called it the Long Nose of innovation as his premise was that if things have already been invented, as technology moves at a greater pace than peoples attitudes and behaviour.  Then the role of commercial innovation as a skill is that of prospecting what is available and validating its relevance to your organisation’s challenges. If you have prospected the technology you have already answered the ‘can we’ question and the focus of organisation and their partners time should be spent time on ‘should we’ by validating its value the the organisation.

In my last post I wrote about innovation being a responsible procedure and that is about what you do with all possibilities that technology offers for your organisation that creates value. John Maeda is an amazing design leader that talks a lot on the fusion of art, design, technology and business. One of he’s key theories he made a few years ago which I love and have added to my own practice, building on it as the formula for innovation.

ART: asks questions

+ TECHNOLOGY: offers possibilities

DESIGN: gives solutions

+ CUSTOMERS: build businesses (my addition)


If you only ask the question ‘can we do this’ you are addressing only the technology possibility, which is as irresponsible as only coming up with the idea. This is not linear, you can jump on the train anywhere and move back and forth amongst the carriages but in order to successfully innovate you have to address all elements to be responsible and justified in your answer the question ’should we’ do this. John Maeda’s framework (with my little addition) can bring diligence to your innovation effort by merely asking

1. Are we asking the right question ?

2. Should we reframe the question ?

3. Who is our past, current or future customer ?

4. What do we know about their attitudes, behaviour, hates and loves as opportunities ?

5.What is the design solution to address all that ?

All of a sudden the question of ‘can we’ create this technology becomes slightly insignificant in the greater importance of maximising your innovation effort as a growth tool for your organisation.

Next time someone asks a question about technology saying ‘can you do this’ reply with the question ..’what questions and insights led you to believe we should do it?’

first posted at Michael Johnston’s Linkedin