I attended a very interesting closed-door roundtable this week - hosted by the startup-savvy Metta team in Hong Kong. The topic was both challenging and difficult to develop: how to turn the Sustainable Development Goals (promoted by the UN) into practical and measurable Impact?
What if you could boost your education business with some Impact Thinking? Running an education business is a real challenge for entrepreneurs. Whether we like it or not, it requires reconciling profitability and knowledge transfer through the delivery of invaluable value. And that requires a lot of Impactful Thinking. The question is, how do you turn a business-as-usual education model into an innovative value proposition?
I didn’t plan this, it just happened. It started as a business talk where I explored mindsets and processes for unclocking creativity. Except that the discussion shifted and, in the end, all the attendance remembered was ‘Impact’. And it happened again, and again. In fact, the more I talk about the idea of Impact Thinking, and the more people pick it up.
In this article, I am telling you the story of that surprising talk. But be careful. It might give you some food for thought!
The story you are about to read started with a talk I gave in Hong Kong in early 2019. The event took place in a co-working space which invited me to talk about strategies for supporting creativity and innovation (i.e. unlocking creativity) to a few entrepreneurs.
I went there with my friend Philippe from Business Talents Asia, who coaches entrepreneurs and executives for a living. We both prepared our share of the discussion and got into the room, where we started talking to a small group of focused participants.
The talk went great. The attendance was receptive and participated very enthusiastically, which made the moment very constructive and enjoyable. Overall, everything worked as expected.
Well, nearly everything.
At the end of the session, we asked everyone in the room to write down a couple of keywords they would remember. We wanted to know if our talk would help them with unlocking creativity, whether personally or in relation to their business.
We expected them to tell us about business mindsets and process-building because, well, the talk had been structured around these topics. But they didn’t. Their responses were unanimous: Impact, Impact, and Impact.
And the best part is, it happened again, and again.
In this article, I am writing about how the word ‘Impact’ seems to be perceived and about why it makes a difference when approached strategically. With a little bit of luck, it will give you some ideas too!
Unlocking creativity and innovation requires a Mindset and a Process.
The starting point of a talk is always a question provided by the host. In our case, the purpose was to give the audience some food for thought as to ‘how to unlock infinite creativity and innovation’. I know, quite a program…
Considering our respective (and converging) expertise, Philippe and I decided to focus on one main idea, i.e. that unlocking creativity and innovation requires a mindset and a process.
For the first half of the talk, Philippe discussed the idea that, in the same way that running a business implies developing a business mindset, unlocking creativity was about building a way to think differently.
Thinking differently is important when it comes to creativity, and the best example of that is probably Apple. At some point ‘Think Different’ used to be the brand’s tagline and we all know what that mindset helped creating in terms of technological innovation over the past two decades. From computers to music players and phones, chances are that Apple was THE driver of technology as we know it.
Except that, over the past years, Apple has been focused on building flagship stores that people want to visit more than on developing innovative tech that people want to buy.
Yes, of course, new phones come up regularly… But how innovative are they compared to others?
As of today, it looks like Apple somehow depends on real estate to keep attracting clients. Said differently, the mindset is gone, and the idea of thinking differently has led the tech giant to become a great shopping mall architect.
A solution to unlocking creativity is to think in terms of positioning and competition removal. There are various ideas to explore here.
Start with niche-ing yourself, for instance. Having a niche is the best way for a business to attract a focused and demanding clientele willing to pay for something unique. So by thinking in terms of differentiation and uniqueness you potentially have a creative boulevard ahead of you.
Another idea is to try and create better value for the client. Not by reducing the price or by giving more, no. But by thinking in terms of what the competition does in excess and in terms of what the competition misses. This is what Kim and Mauborgne – the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy, in case you wondered – call the Value Curve, and it looks like something similar to that:
The X axis represents the various features offered by the competition, while the Y axis illustrates quantities. Here, as you can see, the competition offers a lot of elements 1-4 but very little of elements 5-6. And, because the value propositions are strictly similar, the prices are low.
The green curve, by contrast, got rid of the common 1-4 elements and focuses on what the competitors don’t provide. With that comes uniqueness, obviously. And a higher price.
In sum, to unleash unlimited creativity and innovation, the key is to figure out what to increase, what to decrease, what to delete and what to create. When you do that, chances are that you’ll come up with ideas that others never had, and that you will have access to markets only available to the most creative minds.
Turning creativity into a mindset has two major interests. One, it creates opportunities you never thought existed. Two, a business focused around a creative mindset has unrivaled tools to create a common language for a team, which in turn can unleash more and more innovation.
But in reality, having a mindset is not enough. Having a mindset – whether it is a business mindset or a creative mindset – is just a basis. You need more!
What you really need to unleash innovation is a process designed to push every team member to think in terms of change and improvement whatever they do.
One element here is to have a creative agenda, a funny and misleading term (I illustrated it with a colorful pinky girly diary during the presentation) which is nothing but a synonym for creative strategy. Simply put: what do you want to achieve? By when? how do you plan on getting there?
Another element is therefore to build a system for permanent testing and measuring. Or, said differently, a process.
You can try and innovate all you want, but if you don’t follow a formal process which forces you to question your creativity at all times, from creation to testing and measuring, then how can you expect results?
The answer to that is simple. You can’t.
The idea I decided to test: integrating Impact Thinking into the equation.
And then came a third idea that I decided to include in the talk, to test and measure the reactivity of the audience. That idea is what I call Impact Thinking.
Integrating Impact Thinking into the “unlocking creativity” equation was a deliberate test for me, but I needed to find out whether people could be reactive to a talk based strongly on an Impact concept they didn’t know anything about. Eventually, the only way to get a clear idea was to take a risk, so I went all in.
Introducing Impact Thinking.
Of course, the first step for me was to introduce the concept of Impact Thinking to the audience. The idea will sound obvious, but basically, it is a matter of saying that you should try and think in terms of what you can change and improve for a specific audience.
The point is interesting because it forces you to think in terms of change. First, identifying the status quo, the reasons behind it and the ways to possibly alter it. Second, thinking in terms of problem, in terms of beneficiary and in terms of cause. Third, thinking in terms of Wanted Impact.
And that changes the equation in many regards.
From Value Curve to Impact Thinking.
I mentioned earlier that Blue-Ocean ways of thinking about value creation are a great way to build products that nobody else has, if you remember.
But what I realized was that talking in terms of Impact Thinking was a brutal way to make your value curve dramatically different.
While entrepreneurs may have difficulties to think in terms of value curve – because it requires to think really differently, with concepts you rarely know – adding a notion of impact in the discussion often makes your value curve jump.
Take the above curve for instance, and imagine that it describes a tech product of some sort, with many competitors and a usually low market price. All the competitors are on the same line, pretty much, and we are looking for a way to get our own value curve at a very different level… without really knowing where to start.
Now, let’s introduce some Impact Thinking into the graph by adding a ‘Wanted Impact’ into the curve.
To illustrate, imagine that you are Steve Jobs and that you are looking for a way to get rid of competition on the Walkman market. The goal is to unlock creativity, but it is also to create a revolutionary product that people will need.
After some heavy brainstorming, you come to the conclusion that your wanted Impact is to revolutionize music equipment by turning music devices into unlimited music databases (as compared to the former equipment which could store a couple of hours of music at most).
As soon as this Impact is introduced into the value curve, the product is immediately out of reach for competitors. The Walkman could store an hour of music? The iPhone promised to store millions. The maths are easy to do!
The new product is immediately disruptive. Its originality increases and so does its traction capacity – which actually rockets. In the end, competition diminishes drastically, but the acceptable price is massive compared to the competition. Why? Because people are now happy to pay more for something which exponentially increases their perceived value (and doesn’t exist anywhere else).
Said differently? Adding a dose of Impact Thinking is the best way to work on unlocking creativity. It will rock your world.
Unlocking Creativity = Building a Christmas Tree.
Now, of course, the idea of Impact Thinking does not stop there, and part of the talk brought us back to the importance of building strategies. And I mean, Impactful Strategies.
Again, thinking in terms of Impact creates a massive leap forward because it creates an opportunity to start from the end.
When one knows the Impact they want to achieve ultimately, or the results they want to reach, they can start planning ahead. Planning then gives a variety of tools, which can all be calibrated depending on the wanted Impact.
For instance? Well… What message are you going to communicate? How is that message helping you to get to your wanted Impact? How does it inspire people and push them to contribute? Next? What resources do you need to find? What efforts do you need to make? What actions do you need to plan?
In short, in the same way that a tree only becomes a Christmas Tree after you have put your heart into it, Impact thinking is a magic way to help you think ahead and plan whatever you plan on doing. I call that my ‘Build a Christmas Tree’ approach to making an Impact.
So, in the end, they remembered Impact, Impact, and Impact again.
After an hour and a half of talking about unlocking creativity and innovation with an Impact flavor, Philippe and I ended the talk and invited the participants to enter into a discussion with each other.
But before doing that we asked the audience to fill in a simple feedback form. This form contained several elements, the main of which were a list of keywords and a short impact assessment.
For the keywords, some of our guests remembered ‘mindset’ whilst others remembered ‘process’. But all of them remembered Impact. Then we asked whether the talk was likely (or not!) to change their approach to doing business.
The feedback was unanimous: Impact Thinking would make a difference into the way our guests approached creativity.
This was rather a surprise. The talk was a test and, again, my goal was to verify the hypothesis I had formulated that people might be interested in the concept of Impact Thinking. Well, I was wrong. The participants didn’t feel interested. They felt caught and hooked by it.
After the session, they kept talking about it. One participant – expert in career coaching – told me how my approach to Impact matched her personal approach to life. Another participant who had spent twenty years in the advertising industry explained that, regrettably, his job had been to focus on meaningless communication when it should have focused on Impact, Impact, and Impact.
It happened again, and again.
In short, we went there to talk about creativity and innovation as a mindset, and all they remembered was Impact. This story is interesting because it suggests that there is, after all, another way of doing business and of building Impactful Strategies. But it is also interesting because this story keeps happening to me.
Impactful Strategies for the education industry.
A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to talk at another event. In Hong Kong again, but this time on business strategies for the education industry.
The idea was interesting but rather vague, so I gave a call to the organizer and asked what the expectations were. I gave her the example of the creativity and innovation talk, and we talked about our options. After twenty minutes she came up with a new proposition: “why don’t we change the event topic to… Building Impactful Strategies for the Education Industry? This is what we had in mind all the way down, but we just couldn’t formulate it!”
Whilst I use talks and discussions with entrepreneurs to test my Impact Thinking concepts, let’s not forget that I work in a Law Faculty, where I head the Impact strategy dynamic. And the interesting is, the same happened there as well.
With the help of Design Thinking experts, I organized an Impact Thinking workshop with a colleague of mine. Again, the hypothesis I had made was that we would manage to make him realize the potential of using Impact Thinking when planning research projects traditionally affected by enormous internal and external constraints which, let’s be frank, tend to spoil the fun.
After two hours of workshop masterfully conducted by Youssef (our facilitator), the feedback arrived, abrupt and enthusiastic: Impact Thinking is a memorable tool, and it made me realize how easily I could turn research into an Impactful product relevant to stakeholders I had never thought about before.
Or, said differently, Impact Thinking means partners, cash, support, and an opportunity to change the world. Even for researchers normally not interested in doing business.
How Impactful are you?
I won’t go into more details and examples here, suffice it to say that my Impact Thinking concepts now echo to businesses and institutions in various places.
The question, really, becomes to find out where you stand on the Impact side of things.
Have you considered whether a dose of Impact Thinking could change someone’s life? Yours, maybe? What if Impact Thinking created an opportunity to reconsider the way a product, service or organization works? What if Impact Thinking gave you an opportunity to create more cohesion in a team by creating a common language between people?
Think about it and let me know!
About Antoine Martin (Ph.D.)?
I am an Impact Thinking advocate and strategist. My journey with Impact began in Hong Kong in 2018 when I was tasked with developing an Impact strategy for academics.
Since then, I have developed a framework for Impact Thinking and coached academics, entrepreneurs and business teams on what Impact strategies can bring to their projects. I regularly write, speak and consult on the topic, please get in touch for more information!