The client-centered innovation imperative

There’s an inherent problem in trying to market anything complex like innovation: we practioners are passionate and by necessity employ a rich set of ideas, while our clients who need it, by definition, have focused on another aspect of business and may not have the time nor the inclination to understand these rich ideas in order to engage in the practice. Clients need something simpler to hook into the practice, and if they are willing they will gradually learn more. The problem is, the practioners (like myself) feel it’s inauthentic to over-simplify our ideas.

Grant McCracken tells a story about this in Obituary for a Friend

This is an obituary for a friend who has gone over to the method… Working with Danny was like fishing the Grand Banks before the Europeans came in earnest. So many ideas, so thickly packed, you could walk on them anywhere. …he now plays things by the book. He’s got this method through which everything must pass.

Grant sums up the situation well, and (not ironically) the responses to Grant’s post explore the subtlety of this situation, that it depends on what you mean by method, and to some extent we all have a method.

Regarding clients, I think their motivations go beyond mere lack of time and inclination. Mark Edmunson’s recent article, Freud and the Fundamentalist Urge, reviews Freud’s work on society and politics to find an explanation of why we follow some leaders and not others…

In his last days, Freud became increasingly concerned about our longing for inner peace — our longing, in particular, to replace our old, inconsistent and often inscrutable over-I with something clearer, simpler and ultimately more permissive. We want a strong man with a simple doctrine that accounts for our sufferings, identifies our enemies, focuses our energies and gives us, more enduringly than wine or even love, a sense of being whole.

The challenge before our discipline now is to increase the ways we can assist clients by reconciling our complex ideas with their desire for something simpler.