Image CC by Nantucket Historical Association Library
Eat People, Build Faster Horses, and Teach Sleeping Dogs New Tricks:
Tips to eat, work, and sleep in the world of innovation.
1. Eat People
The best way to leverage Abundance and Scale and to create Productivity is to get rid of people. - Andy Kessler
In Andy Kessler’s book Eat People he argues that we (or innovators he calls Free Radicals) should create solution that make as many jobs as possible obsolete. It sounds harsh, but it is with the upmost concern for social progress. Here’s why: Kessler argues that we should support ideas and technologies that eliminate jobs so they can be replaced by new (and possibly more) jobs which are created with new technology, and the result of this process is a rise in our standard of living. This is because technology replaces jobs. Microsoft Word replaced a lot of secretaries and vacuums replaced many housecleaners (Kessler’s examples and humor). Smart phones replaced cellphones, computers, and watches. At the same time, all these devices created an industry of their own, creating countless jobs, and making all of our lives better.
Innovation needs to eat jobs or else we cannot move forward as a society. When you are thinking about a new idea or business plan, think about how many jobs it can eat up so it can push our society forward by lowering costs to companies who can run with your technology and create more jobs. If your idea is only going to make you a lot of money in the short run, sucking it from the rest of us or through a legal loophole, drop it in the pursuit of long-term gains and overall wealth creation.
2. Build Faster Horses
“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” - Henry Ford
Often, it is hard to think outside of what we know. Whether the quote attributed to Henry Ford was actually spoken by Ford or not, it is a good sentiment nonetheless. Developing a new solution to an old problem requires a lot of creative out-of-the-box thinking. It requires innovative thinkers to look at problem from another perspective and use current technologies to create a new market. In the business world,W. Chan Kim's Book Blue Ocean Strategy is the industry's go-to book.
A Blue Ocean Strategy is when a company creates new market space and makes the competition irrelevant. This is when Henry Ford built and mass-produced automobiles instead of building and mass-producing really fast horses and lightweight aerodynamic buggies (although, this oddly sounds really fun). Another famous example is Cirque du Soleil, who took the themes of a circus but created their own industry instead of trying to compete with the current market. They took out the animals (costly to maintain and controversial to animal rights groups), turned the show into an artistic performance, and marketed it to adults rather than children.
Not only do you have to create a new product, your solution should create a new market that appeals to a wider audience. In the example of Cirque du Soleil, their market included adults and corporate clients who were willing to pay higher ticket prices than a normal circus performance, nearly the opposite of the Circus market.
If you are interested in learning more about Blue Ocean Strategy, check out the book here.
3. Teach Sleeping Dogs New Tricks
"If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes." - Albert Einstein
It’s all about framing.
If someone asks you to build a bridge, you have a few options. You could go off and build a bridge and complete the task, or you could ask “why.” The person may say to you, “I want to get to the other side of the river.” As little new information this seems to add, the response opens up space for many possibilities. A bridge is just one possibility, there are others that may be more effective once the problem is defined: tunnel, balloon, boat, catapult. Start with why and evaluate the situation to see if there are alternatives to the current status quo.
A good exercise for framing an argument or problem is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Take a moment to think about how consumer X (child, teen, young adult, mother of two, retired grandparent, etc.) would use your product. What difficulties might they encounter? What can I do to make sure they have a positive experience? Developing empathy is a big part of Emotional Intelligence, a necessary tool for communicating your innovative ideas. Knowing yourself, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management are also part of growing your EI/EQ muscle, making it easier to frame your new ideas (or old ideas in a new way). Using these skills to frame your idea in a way people can relate to it will invite customers to share your vision.
If you are interested in learning more about framing questions, check out Tina Seelig’s book inGenius
Andrew J. Wilt
SEI Junior Consultant