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IIeX: Innovating when Your CEO Is Not a Genius

How do we understand people’s motivation and feelings when there is no time to think? When you stop talking about yourself and start listening really hard to what consumers are looking for, that is when breakthroughs happens.


By Jeffrey Henning

Charles Trevail, CEO of Promise Communities, discussed inspiring the future at the GreenBook Insight Innovation Exchange in Philadelphia. “The old view was that as long as we had a genius as CEO, we would be led into the future.” Think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet. “But 95% of organizations don’t have that kind of CEO, so we need to do innovation differently.”

When there is more choice than ever for consumers, more fast followers among suppliers, consumers are in charge and more and more demanding. “They want to be engaged in the way they want be engaged. They can buy whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want.” Industries are shifting from the manufacturer being in charge to the consumer being in charge.

Given these conditions, “Most of us are looking to answer the question, ‘How can you build temporary monopolies?'”

“When 90% of the world’s data will be created in the next two 2 years [according to Gartner], we are progressively becoming more ignorant.” And one area where organizations are almost willfully ignorant is about creating value for customers. “We know an awful lot about our products, what people think about our products, what our finances are, but we don’t know enough about creating value in customer’s lives.”

“When it comes to customers, feelings are facts. Executives don’t like dealing with messy feelings but to consumers feelings are facts. We make nearly all the decisions in our lives based on feelings. Human beings are based on emotion … how do we understand people’s motivation and feelings when there is no time to think? When you stop talking about yourself and start listening really hard to what consumers are looking for, that is when breakthroughs happens.”

Charles shared five ways to break through to true innovation:

  1. By creating real relationships. “You need to approach the consumer with empathy, humility and curiosity.” Charles shared photos of a hospital in Detroit, the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, which looks more like a resort than a hospital. The planned hospital’s CEO went out and spent time with the people the hospital was serve. “He took dinner around to people who lived in the local communities, and he had dinner with them and asked, ‘What do you want out of a hospital?’ And what they wanted was a community center for wellness, not a place for sickness, and he gained the insight by doing the research himself. This particular hospital has a fantastic restaurant, so people come in from outside to eat there. People come in to the greenhouse and garden. They even run weddings out of his hospital. Imagine that!”
  2. By asking a big question. Questions like “Do you want this one or that one?” won’t tell you what is important to consumers. “I was lucky enough to be behind the very first flat beds in business class: it gave British Airways a 5-year temporary monopoly. Initially, BA had so much resistance to change.” The idea had always been ripping out seats to put in more seats and make more money; they couldn’t understand, and actively fought, pulling out seats to put in fewer seats.
  3. By listening for possibilities. “I had hotel executives five years ago who said ‘please don’t’ come and tell me that consumers want free Internet — we’ve been hearing it, I don’t want to know.’ If you have been hearing it, then do something about it! Too much of what we hear about the pain points in industry are negative.” Instead, use them as positives to inspire.
  4. By inventing together. “Invention is a collaborative pursuit. The Beatles were invented together. Consumers are great inventors.” He shared a case study of a hotel that wanted to branch out to yachts, cruise lines, and private jets. “Of course, when we talked to customers, they wanted free Internet and cheaper laundry.”
  5. By playing/dreaming. Discover where people keep their dreams. A spirit of play engages consumers, generates better ideas and helps executives better connect to consumers’ lives.

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