Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Are you a phenomenologist?

Did you see the phenomenal 'Lego Movie'?
I use that adjective deliberately, as Lego's venture into things other than plastic bricks was a result of 'phenomenology'. Yes it is a real word; coined by anthropologists who applied 'sensemaking' to real-world problems and solutions in organisations.

Lego was facing increasing challenge to its much-loved product from electronic games and the internet. There was plenty of 'big data' from which they could tell exactly where the challenge was coming from and predict customer behaviour. What the data couldn't tell them was why customers were making these choices, whether they rational or spontaneous.

Rather than taking a hypothesis and testing it against a focus group, or running trials, a 'sensemaking' approach assumes nothing - a problem may not even be apparent at this stage. Phenomenology has been applied to Starbucks' renewal programme, 'nudge' marketing and healthcare policy and many other previously data-driven innovation programmes.

An anthropological approach to innovation will capture a huge amount of raw information. The anthropologist's skill is to look for patterns, themes or phenomena that lead to insights. Lego realised that by observing what else their customers (kids and parents) were doing, their growth strategy would be radically different - and it wasn't 'alternative bricks' or 'more kits'!

If you would like to know more about these case studies and the observational approach to innovation, I heartily recommend the Harvard Business Review article 'An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar...'

The next KIN Innovation Roundtable in April will invite all members to share their innovation approaches, be they data-driven, phenomenology-driven, or chocolate cookie and a cuppa tea driven. We will also invite all member organisations to benchmark themselves agains the draft KIN Innovation 'Maturity Model'. It should be a phenomenal event.

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