Recently, I found myself tweeting a link to a Harvard Business Review blog by Grant McCracken entitled The Black Swans Circling P&G:
It's a great read and I highly recommend you follow the link and take a look. I'd like to expand here a little on how it relates to KILN and particularly our first product, IdeaKeg.
The Black Swans Circling P&G
In his HBR post, Grant says:
If you stand in the plaza of P&G's Cincinnati headquarters and look up, you will see something circling. [...]
Those birds are Black Swans. Any one of them would be bad for P&G. [...] Should these swans come down to earth they will feast on P&G the way eagles went to work on Prometheus. It won't be pretty.
How do I know A.G. Lafley and co. can't see these black swans? I can't be sure, of course. But I do know that what I am about to tell you would never show up in the kind of research Lafley and P&G typically rely on. Unless he has some other source of intelligence, A.G. Lafley cannot see the black swans gathering.
Now I won't steal his thunder - you can read the full piece here and see if you agree with him.
The common thread between the five he lists - and many others out there - is that you can't deduce them solely from data, or even by asking individual consumers, suppliers or retailers. You need an appreciation of shifts in the culture as a whole to see such swans. It a change of attitude and above all a change in the meanings people put to things.
So what to do?
KILN needed to gather meanings and track the culture. We do this in a qualitative manner overall. Yes we spend lots of desk time with facts and figures from around the world. But it's hard to overstate how valuable the human networks we have are for understanding meaning. We're always fine-tuning that network, balancing coverage spread against quality.
But corporate life is full of market reports and trend reports, some of them very useful. Surely we didn't want to just add to the noise? This is how we came to objects. Putting something real in your hand activates your brain in a different way to reading yet another Powerpoint on screen. (Read more about that here). A tangible object is a very handy way to cut through the information overload. The objects come with trend notes of less than 300 words, just enough to stir your imagination and curiosity. Enough to help you make connections and develop your own cultural understanding. With luck, enough to help you see that Black Swan for yourself.
Why help you see it for yourself? Because seeing is only the beginning, once you have seen it you need to take action. As Grant says:
The good news is that black swans, if you can grasp them, turn into opportunities for category and product innovation.
And that's the final piece of the KILN jigsaw. Inside every box we have a conversational process, to make sure that the meeting where your team uses our objects to spot a Black Swan also guides them towards creative ways to turn it into an opportunity. If you subscribe to the full system you also get a solid front-end of innovation process that guides you from spotting, through ideas to concepts ready for management presentation and storytelling.
And that's why I helped found KILN, because I wanted to help companies read the weak signals, use culture to spot big trends and black swans - but most of all help them take that knowledge and turn it into great new products and businesses.