Better and Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas
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These are the three hunter instincts—insatiability, curiosity, and willingness to destroy.
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To stay inspired, we’d perpetually hunt for ideas together, devouring hundreds of magazines and newspapers. Our living room table was a collage of media. We’d flip through copies of Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Time, Newsweek, Car & Driver, Automobile, Motor Trend, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, and National Geographic. We’d examine each new product, quizzing each other on whether it would be successful and how we might change it.
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across all industries, opportunity seems to follow six major patterns: convergence, divergence, cyclicality, redirection, reduction, and acceleration
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there are six major patterns of opportunity that are created by nearly every major breakthrough product. Thus, you can use these patterns to predict or uncover future business opportunities that will be indirectly fueled by a burgeoning megatrend associated with that product. Much like the way the Blackfoot tribe would redirect the flow of a stampeding herd of buffalo, you can redirect the momentum of another company’s success to your advantage. It may seem counterintuitive, but this phenomenon is something we’ve spotted time and time again at Trend Hunter. Competition can become an asset if ...more
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Enter Twitter, a place where a person can “follow” random strangers. Meanwhile, the permanence of Facebook as a personal archive breeds fear that photos might be seen by those who shouldn’t see them, inhibiting the ability to share freely. This could well spawn a craving for something temporary. Enter SnapChat, a place for sharing temporary photos,
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Finally, although Facebook’s mechanism for sharing people’s everyday lives can be useful and empowering, it also leads to oversharing and an Internet flooded with amateur smartphone photos. If you happen to be a lover of photographic art, you might want to bring the art back. Enter Instagram, a billion-dollar business that adds artistic filters to your mobile photos.
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The point is that none of the companies—not even Google—has been successful at directly taking on Facebook. The quicker, smarter, easier path to success is to hunt for the patterns of opportunity that a company, trend, or breakthrough might create.
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CONVERGENCE: Creating a winning business or product by combining multiple products, services, or trends. Includes: mixing, product integration, social integration, bringing people together, adding value through layering, drama, multifunctions, and co-branding.
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If something bugs you or triggers your curiosity, pay attention: there may be a creative combination of ideas that could turn into a big business idea.
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Zombies, Run! is a multidimensional running experience that combines your favorite music, GPS
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tracking, and the narrative of a heart-pounding zombie horror story. Pick your jogging path, and start running to the pace of a zombie drama that overrides the music. The iPhone app’s marketing description reads, “Get Fit. Escape Zombies. Become a Hero.” If your pace slows down, you’ll be warned that the zombies are catching up. Head toward a building, and you’ll be told to sprint to grab supplies. Immersed in an interactive story that’s constantly tracking your location, you’ll likely run faster.
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Ned Loach and Robert Gontier were two highly educated millennials looking for work and a greater purpose in life. Each had earned multiple degrees and certifications in the arts, but the extra qualifications left them wanting more. So the two dreamed of a way to channel their passions and create something incredible. Imagine you’re preparing to leave work Friday afternoon when you receive the week’s most anticipated e-mail, a cryptic note that reveals a secret location and bare-bones instructions: “Be at the old distillery at 4:00 p.m. tomorrow. Wear black.” What’s up? The following afternoon, ...more
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The practice of layering on immersion experiences is increasingly popular in a range of businesses and industries. Over 100,000 British fans recently rushed to join an IKEA Facebook page, hoping for the chance to spend the night in one of the company’s gigantic stores. One hundred pajama-clad patrons were invited to the IKEA sleepover party for a night of camping in their showroom while being treated to movies and spa services. In another example, the cable channel TNT found a sleepy little Belgium town where not too much happens and placed a pedestal in the center of the town square. On the ...more
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It starts by considering what interests young professionals. While they might enjoy video games and beer, they truly thrive when they’re given challenges. Motivated more by social achievements than by money, they crave new skills and qualifications. To satisfy all of these needs, while tapping into their preferred leisure activity, we created the ultimate workplace experiment in convergence. From a design perspective, our office is perfectly suited to young professionals. It’s a hip, 5,000-square-foot, brick-walled loft in Toronto’s fashion district. Our furnishings are a blend of modern and ...more
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Instead of holding dull office meetings, we put on beer parties, which involve individual work updates. Rather than employ traditional motivation tactics, we’ve created a video game–like system of reward, digitally projecting everyone’s stats on our wall. To make sure new people are challenged, we try to publish their work within their first few days, and we push each person to try new projects, categories, and styles of writing. To satisfy their need for new qualifications, we’ll run them through forty workshops and training sessions in just a few months, instructing them in interview ...more
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SUB-PATTERNS OF CONVERGENCE
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As we’ve seen in this chapter, convergence can take many different forms. Here is a cheat sheet of all the forms and sub-patterns that you can explore to help you find better ideas and opportunities—and find them faster.
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ALIGNING WITH MULTIPLE FORCES More than a decade ago, the scrappy start-up Method leaped into the cluttered market for bathroom soaps and cleaning agents, which was dominated by consumer packaged goods giants such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble (P&G). Method combined eco-friendly ingredients with design-centric packaging to create an overall vibe of sophistication. The extraordinary outcome: a line of cleaning products that soon racked up annual revenue of $100 million. Even more surprising was the impression the brand left on consumers, who were so taken with the elegance of the bottles ...more
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DIVERGENCE: Products and services designed to oppose or break free from the mainstream. This opportunity pattern extends beyond rebellion to include personalization, customization, status, and luxury.
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They knew that they needed a nonconventional marketing strategy. Mateschitz brought his counterintuitive beliefs to his college pal, Johannes Kastner, who’d founded an ad agency in Frankfurt six years earlier. Kastner agreed that the brown, syrupy concoction tasted “nasty,” but he took on the challenge. Kastner & Partners intentionally marketed Red Bull to be subversive.6 There’d be no traditional brand merchandising. The drink would be nonconformist, self-ironic, and polarizing. Pricing would be intentionally outrageous (three to six times the price of a Coke), helping to separate Red Bull ...more
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Red Bull wasn’t so much a drink as a divergent brand message buoyed by rumors and intrigue. It was this divergence that gave the company its momentum. In 1996, Vriens’s North American Red Bull launch budget was a paltry $2.5 million, a fraction of the $50 to $100 million normally required for a national launch. But Vriens hoped to generate buzz through other avenues. Urban myths or rumors can spread like wildfire, and they cost virtually nothing. You may have heard the bull balls rumor—the peculiar idea that taurine, Red Bull’s mystery ingredient, is extracted from bull testicles.
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That nutty concept appeals to testosterone-charged males, but it’s false. While a traditional corporation might issue a press release correction, Red Bull built an unmoderated fan site, which essentially functioned as a rumor mill. The company knew that when fans imagine your energy drink has phenomenal, mystical ingredients, that’s a rumor you want to run wild.
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Mateschitz summarized his unconventional strategy in Businessweek: “In the beginning, the high-school teachers who were against the product were at least as important as the students who were for it.… Newspapers a...
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Authority figures who railed against Red Bull only fanned the flames, making the mysterious drink seem just as alluring as other pursuits youths are unsuccessfully warned against—sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. The opposition handed the divergent product free advertising. The more they railed against it, the more Red Bull sold. After all, few things are more attractive to a young person than something prohibited by adults (for example, there’s compelling evidence that Nancy Reagan’s “Just...
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If you’re exploring a concept that differs from the mainstream, it can be useful to examine your weaknesses to consider whether you can position them as points of differentiation. For Red Bull, the unpleasant flavor played well with the drink’s purported nearmedicinal quality.
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In the words of the musician Jerry Garcia himself, “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”14
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Every year in Australia, more than 100,000 dogs are euthanized because nobody wants to adopt them. Diverging from the traditional models for pet adoption shelters, Mars Petcare created an app called Dog-A-Like. The app exploits the popular belief that people already look like their canines by scanning photos of potential owners and searching their database of abandoned dogs to find a four-legged match. It was hugely popular, becoming the number one downloaded app in the Australia iTunes store, and saved thousands of dogs through a 13 percent rise in adoptions.
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The stronger brews were designed for beer connoisseurs and were generally not enjoyed by the mass market. To trumpet that differentiation, the company created the slogan “This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it.” Stone’s T-shirts are equally exclusionary, brandishing statements such as “Fizzy yellow beer is for wussies.” Yet all that attitude has created a business that generates $100 million per year, with minimal advertising.
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TAKEAWAYS   1.  Popular and Cool Are Different Too often, people mistakenly pursue what’s already popular. Popular is mainstream. It’s crowded with competitors and, crucially, it’s something that has already happened. Competitive advantage comes from searching for something cool, which is effectively the next big thing.   2.  Identify the Mainstream (to Repel It) Increasingly, people are expecting products and services that reflect their unique personalities. There’s a natural desire to diverge from the mainstream. For example, by taking the less popular route, UglyDoll differentiated itself ...more
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CYCLICALITY: Predictably recurring opportunities. Includes: retro, nostalgia, economic cycles, seasonality, generational patterns, and repetitive cycles.
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SUB-PATTERNS OF CYCLICALITY RETRO Digital photography has become ubiquitous, flooding our social streams with generic photos of everyday objects, friends, and events. To recall the artistic flair of days gone by, a team of twelve developers created Instagram, a social media app that artfully degrades your photos to match the vintage imperfection of early photography. Within two years, the team sold its business to Facebook for just over one billion dollars. NOSTALGIA While the retro pattern brings back periods we might not have been a part of, nostalgia is about tapping our specific memories. ...more
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REDIRECTION: The art of channeling the power of a trend, behavior, or demonstration of need instead of fighting it. Includes: refocusing, reprioritizing, rationalizing, reversing, and gamifying.
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SUB-PATTERNS OF REDIRECTION RATIONALIZING If your product has a feature or an attribute that stands out, you can use justification to turn an oddity into the core benefit. I grew up listening to Buckley’s popular cough syrup slogan, “It’s awful and it works!” This was a clever redirect that turned the syrup’s sour taste into a proof point. Similarly, Volvo cars were long seen as unattractive, but then the company drew attention to their safety and increased sales with the famous campaign “They’re boxy but they’re good.” Finally, digital-based financial institutions ranging from eTrade to ING ...more
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REPRIORITIZING Sometimes it pays to deprioritize perfection. Theo Lioutas, one of my clients, discovered this when he was the director of new products and technology at Tropicana. The juice maker’s early success was tied to its premium quality and certification as a Florida Grade A orange juice. Lioutas explained that the grading meant the juice was flawless according to rigid guidelines, including pulp-free purity. The single-minded pursuit of this rating, however, began to suppress internal innovation because nobody dared introduce products that might jeopardize the seal. By shifting focus ...more
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SURPRISING An unexpected surprise can go a long way, especially with respect to products or services for which consumers have built-in expectations. Air travel, for example, is an industry that consumers generally perceive as a necessary evil. People often assume that few airlines truly care about their customers. To redirect people’s focus from all the reasons to detest air travel, KLM airlines sought out passengers with social media profiles, figured out their likes, and then surprised them with gifts in their seats. Similarly, WestJet airlines placed a digital message to Santa for ...more
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REDUCTION: Simplifying a business concept or focusing it more on a specific idea. Includes: specialization, removing layers and steps, fractioning, crowd-sourcing, subscriptions, localization, and efficiency.
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If you want people to love what you stand for, you need to create products that are
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irresistible to a specific group.
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Reduction is about the power of niche and simplicity at its extreme. It’s about products and services so targeted that they sparkle amid the clu...
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My favorite online fan page is I F*cking Love Science, a shock-titled presentation that features weird animals, shocking facts, remixed Einstein pics, counterintuitive neuropsychology, and breakthrough science. In other words: fun science! It’s a place where you might learn that “Scientists have found a way to implant false memories into mice.” Or, you might explore the latest scientific breakthroughs, animal discoveries, and medical facts.
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By comparison, Square’s landing page sports just sixty-nine words, including these: “Start accepting credit cards today. Sign up and we’ll mail you a free Square Reader. 2.75% per swipe, no additional fees, and next day deposits.”
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SUMMARY: REDUCTION This chapter has approached reductive opportunities from many different angles—from reality TV to the inspiration of personal failure to the potential for breakthrough technology innovations that border on genius. You’ve seen how key it is to feel pain and understand what lies behind it—to recognize and then skillfully remove the layers that can separate supply and demand. Reducing complexity, both in your product and your message, is essential to exploiting reductive patterns.
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TAKEAWAYS   1.  Find a Little Idea You don’t need to find a big idea. You can also find a little idea that can be made big. That could mean something fractional, smaller, simpler, or more focused.   2.  Map Specific Pain Points Most great ideas solve an existing problem. By thinking through the pains and problems of those in your niche, you can map out unique areas of opportunity.   3.  Remove the Layers That Separate Supply and Demand The cost structure of a business is often bloated by markups charged by suppliers and middlemen. Identify the extra layers, and you can create value through ...more
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ACCELERATION: Identifying a critical feature of a business or product and dramatically enhancing that element. Includes: perfection, aspirational positioning, exaggerated features, and reimagined solutions.
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In a bid to further accelerate her business, in 2007 DeBoom launched a 5k race called Convert to Skirt. Competitors later dubbed it the “Skirt Chaser 5k,” and the name stuck. The “Skirts” (women) get a head start, and three minutes later, the men give chase. There’s a big party after the race, with music, drinks, and mingling (singles are asked to wear a sticker, which helps turn the event into a giant mixer). The race was a hit—and sparked instant controversy. College newspapers, DeBoom recalled, “started blasting [Skirt Sports] as a sexist company and calling the Skirt Chaser ‘one step back’ ...more