Discover more from Tom Kerwin
Innovation, beef and bacon
A roundup of interesting things
I’ve got a roundup of interesting things for you today:
My Innovation Tactics card deck launches on Monday, and I have a limited-time offer to share with you
Then & Now – a guest piece I wrote about my beef with backcasting
YouTube culinary legends Sohla & Ham demonstrate complexity-coherent innovation … with bacon
Three more links to poke your thinky bits
Innovation Tactics launches on Monday!
Finally. Just gonna say it: I’m freakin’ proud of my card deck. It’s taken a huge amount of work, and I’m excited to see what you do with it.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been making additional video content, templates and examples for every card. Folks who pick up the deck get access to all of that in what Pip Decks call The Vault.
If you’re planning on picking up a copy, you can get 15% off if you pre-order before Sunday night using the link below.
There’s also a special Strategist Bundle which combines Innovation Tactics with Strategy Tactics into one supercharged package. The decks go together really well. I can’t think of a better way to level up your ability to lead in uncertainty, whether you’re already running an organisation or want to step up and start leading within one.
Get 15% off Innovation Tactics before Monday (and access to the digital deck right now) with code INNOVATE15 at checkout.
Or, using the same code, get the Strategist Bundle to save 48% compared to buying both decks separately.
Then & Now – my guest piece on strategy
In case you haven’t already seen it, I wanted to share a link to this guest piece I wrote for JP Castlin’s Strategy in Praxis newsletter.
The piece is all about the perils of relying too much on backcasting from a desired target, and how that plays out as bad strategy in many organisations.
In future I’m going to explore more themes around this piece, starting with goal-setting. How can we hold goals more lightly so we’re not blinded to opportunities? How can we allow for the emergence of better goals before we crystallise them in targets, OKRs, etc? Pragmatic, actionable alternatives are starting to emerge, and I’m excited to explore them.
(Some of the takeaways in the article are hidden unless you’re a paying subscriber to JP’s newsletter. But if you’ve been reading my newsletter, you can probably guess at many of the points. Of course, several are in the card deck ;) )
Sohla & Ham demonstrate innovation
Sohla El-Waylly is a brilliant person to watch on YouTube. In her Mystery Menu series, she teams up with husband Ham to improvise a menu that incorporates a surprise ingredient. In this episode it’s bacon.
This is a great example of enabling constraints. Having a tight timebox and being forced to incorporate a random ingredient into every course is what enables Sohla & Ham to create innovative recipes. Perversely, it would be harder for them to come up with something interesting if they had infinite time and ingredient choices. Another hidden constraint is in the cultural expectations of the courses a meal should include. What other constraints can you notice?
Sohla & Ham use granularity and abstraction to do decomposition/recombination. They can break down dishes and ingredients into many distinct elements in many different ways. This increases the granularity, giving them more elements to play with. But that’s not enough. The secret is in abstraction. They abstract the concept of “BLT” away from the famous sandwich, which means they can mash it together with another abstraction: “diner-style soup”. By doing so they innovate a BLT-flavoured gazpacho. While increasing granularity gives them more elements to play with, abstraction helps them bring different elements closer together into unexpected patterns. (The Snowmobiling card in Innovation Tactics is about how you can do this for situations besides cookery.)
They’re also able to quickly test for coherence of new recipe combinations. They mutate ideas by bouncing them back and forth, until things start to coalesce around a coherent direction. They’re not afraid to throw lots of ideas into the conversation as safe-to-fail probes, and they throw away ideas as they chat. They’re searching for more constraints – which will help them narrow a huge set of possible combinations of elements into a few courses that work together. In this case, they settle on a diner theme, but as a fancy tasting menu. When they get into the cooking, they continually taste and adjust their plans (probe-sense-respond), often changing a recipe on the fly and sometimes even abandoning an element that’s not working.
They use anticipatory decision-making to avoid painting themselves into a culinary corner. They start off doing just enough planning with pen and paper sketches. They sequence their preparation so they can de-risk the riskiest elements first. They’re able to change the plan as they cook, taste and learn. They give themselves room to adapt when things don't work out (an important part of some episodes!). This is similar to how product teams work with Pivot Triggers: prioritisation for rapid risk reduction.
Finally, is their level of virtuosity necessary for this kind of innovation to be possible? I don’t think so. No doubt, this is fun to watch because Sohla & Ham are exquisitely competent nerds. But normal home cooks like us could kinda do a similar thing. Without their skills and experience, it just takes us longer to make less food. We’d also create fewer good novel patterns (and probably much more of a mess). We’d also get less reliable results and be less capable of adapting when things went wrong. But we could still have a go, and we might still get lucky. We could make it easier for ourselves by introducing even more constraints, such as starting with only 3 choices for familiar recipes that we could then remix. It’s a bit like how a high-school jazz band can get through a jazz standard, having a go at soloing around a well-rehearsed arrangement. Comparatively, Miles Davis and friends can sit down with nearly no plan and improvise Kind of Blue in one take. The high-schoolers and Miles are both “doing jazz” but the non-virtuosos need many more enabling constraints – and take longer to get less transcendent results. We can all practise innovating today using some enabling constraints. What will you try?
More linky goodness
Delighted to see Will Myddelton writing again. In startup reflections he touches on similar themes of granularity, abstraction and probing as he talks through some mistakes he made as he evolved from designer into founder.
Though I don’t agree with everything in this thread from Andy Budd, I think he does get at some subtle dynamics at play in teams trying to build stuff. Especially the danger of confusing uncertainty and risk, and the politics that ensue. (This is exactly the kind of situation that Innovation Tactics is designed to help with.)
I wrote a short thread about Cynefin Dynamics, and where I see some of our modern product / Agile approaches fit into the blue-coloured innovation cycle. More on this in the future …