Picasso, pedantic? Not likely. For all the angst of Guernica, the turmoil of a crying woman, Picasso is probably best loved for his child-like sketches. And Dali, didn’t he do well? But you wouldn’t want him at your house for dinner, or careering around Downing Street.
Deconstructing the conventional and building something new, vigorous and bold, requires not just imagination, but a form of mania best enjoyed from a distance. Innovative high achievers are thought to benefit from a particular pressure on the prefrontal cortex. They won’t know it, but their lifestyle will be an indicator. Prodigious work output and the appearance of a consuming passion must draw on a vital inspiration source.
That source is found by swimming in the new. Infused with every new idea, from the arts, business, technology, innovators seem to absorb, filter and translate undercurrents of trends, and produce an idea, or product, which captures the moment, a zeitgeist.
Brilliant innovation is not the conception of a futuristic intangible, it’s an idea that captures the moment, meets the need of the day. Born often out of boredom with the status quo, innovation is the Belle du Jour of business.
Innovative genius is not the day-to-day stuff of most UK companies. Gurus speak of unlocking potential and a thousand other lived in phrases, but as we climb over the rubble of 2008, we see firms are still in the middle of an economic war, fighting for survival. Executives are not inclined to listen for the next big idea, fearful of distraction, fearful that risky product development, and the cost of failure, will sink their listing ship.
If 2009 is the year of economic battle, then today’s business models should be built firmly on the art of warfare. Davos looks more than a little like the meeting of global leaders at the end of World War Two.
Instead of a Branson or Stelios pinup, why not use Napoleon this year? Held in highest esteem by the Duke of Wellington, and held in prison by the French, Napoleon began his return to power from a position of complete isolation, and with an absence of all resources except a horse, and a big idea.
Facing down troops sent to arrest him, Napoleon defied defeat, marched to Paris with a growing band of soldiers, and rebuilt a mighty position. His success was not dependent on a great charisma, but a capacity to interpret the moment, create a product, in this case an ideal, and sell it to the masses.
If you think selling an ideal is not a great platform for a P&L sheet, then you’ve just wiped out the multi-billion pound advertising sector, along with most of today’s global brands.
Invest in attitude innovation. Price cutting is for wimps, branding to the bone is for those who believe that innovating every day keeps wolves from the door and armies of workers marching to a glorious tune.