Fernando Fischmann

Six Ways To Stimulate Innovation Like Richard Branson, Warby Parker, And Adobe

23 March, 2017 / Articles

A classic rookie mistake, when you’re setting out to stimulate a culture of innovation, is to think you can start from zero, from a blank piece of whiteboard, as it were. Starting from zero can be terrifying and counterproductive. Much better to kick things off with something: an innovation prompt that can stimulate creativity in people who don’t necessarily think of themselves as naturally innovative. Earlier, I shared a selection of the innovation prompts that I’ve gathered during my entrepreneurial career and that I use today at my innovation speeches and workshops.  And here, as a bonus, are six more of my most-useful innovation prompts.  These prompts naturally fall into three pairs, which is how I’ve grouped them below.

(If you want, for your office use, a list of the innovation prompts that I find most useful for stimulating innovation, please email me directly and I’ll send you a clean, formatted copy.)

Simplify your product or service: Most customers refuse to read directions. Can your product can be redesigned or repackaged to eliminate the need?

Add complexity/make it more advanced/aim it exclusively at professionals : Creating the best product can sometimes requires adding complexity, and some professional users actually prefer products that only they can decipher. Photoshop is a classic example of this: It violates many of the dicta of the Apple User Interface in ways that result in a very steep learning curve (or should I say gradient?). If professional or “prosumer” users are a potential market for you, you may be able to safely add complexity to your offering, and you may find this to be a valid way to court this market.


Make it more masculine, in an industry that’s typically associated with a feminine outlook.  Most Nordstrom customers are female, yet recently the company has also done with its Trunk Club innovation, which is primarily aimed at men. Trunk has both an online-advisor component and five real-life “clubhouses” that have the feeling of high-end, old-school barbershops (though staffed with personal shoppers rather than barbers).

Make it more feminine, when you’re in a market that traditionally ignores female customers. The change in gender makeup in the all-important business-traveler demographic (which was formerly almost entirely male) has mostly been ignored by the hospitality industry—until recently. Virgin Hotels has designed their flagship Chicago hotel with multiple touches that are intended to click with the female traveler:  better-designed closets; better lighting; a clever pocket door divider that forms a temporary wall to allow a woman to dress or put on makeup while her significant other is snoring away in the bedroom.  (And in case there isn’t anyone snoring away in the bedroom–or they’re snoring too hard to be stirred–the Virgin team have cheekily put a vibrator in the minibar’s “intimacy kit” alongside the more traditionally-included condoms and lube. This is a Richard Branson-helmed brand, after all.)

Offer the complete line. The seed (sorry!) of the Smith & Hawken gardening-supply company was Paul Hawken’s desire to import British Bulldog gardening tools, which he’d fallen in love with overseas and now found to be unavailable in the U.S.  The Bulldog company required him to take the entire line if he wanted to be an importer; while this struck him initially as a hardship, he soon credited it with Smith & Hawken’s success with serious gardeners, who appreciated the completeness of the Smith & Hawken approach.

Limit/cherry pick what you offer. Warby Parker’s runaway success in the eyewear business comes from a variety of innovations, but one of them is the limited line of frames and lenses they carry. This simplifies their economic model and provides a distinctive Warby Parker look that has spread their brand by “word of eye”– much faster than traditional marketing ever could.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.



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