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Beyond The Obvious by Phil McKinney – Killer Questions Sparking Game-Changing Innovation-Assumptions
Innovation is one of the most ubiquitous buzzwords in 21st century business. tossed about in boardrooms and corporate meetings more than any football during an NFL game.
Phil McKinney is the author of the new book, Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions That Drive Game-Changing Innovation. He is an innovation expert who has served as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for major tech companies and also runs innovation boot camps.
McKinney recognizes that innovation is not easy. It takes work and effort, but it’s a good thing. Innovative thinking can be honed by anyone with practice. It also requires an organized process for generating, prioritizing, and executing big ideas.
It provides a dynamic set of killer questions that force you to look “beyond the obvious”. These killer questions are divided into three categories: 1) Who is your customer, 2) What are you selling to them, 3) How does your organization operate.
Before you can use Killer Questions to engage in game-changing innovation, you need to go beyond your industry and business assumptions, deal with the jerks; and neutralize corporate antibodies. Here, the focus is on going beyond the assumptions of your industry and your business.
Hypotheses. Companies filled with people who “are the best” operate from a false sense of security that can feel nice and positive. This feeling is a byproduct of certainty, and certainty can lead to dangerous assumptions about who you are, what you do, and how you do it. It’s only when you can see these assumptions that you can release them and move forward into new ideas and breakthrough innovations.
Be your own underdog. McKinney admits it’s a delicate balance between speaking conflicting and difficult truths and conveying those same realities in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your career or job. Sometimes companies seek validation of ideas from outside sources due to fear and uncertainty of change. “Whether you’re an insider or an outsider, you must become the voice that challenges yesterday’s answers,” he says. Force yourself to look around your organization with a dissociated and less emotional perspective.
Go past the first obvious answer. “People who feel confident have to be shaken by their complacency to realize how narrow their vision is,” McKinney says. Consider the following exercises:
Exercise I. What is half of thirteen? Write your answer.
The obvious answer is 6.5. Other answers include: Thir/teen, when written in Roman numerals (XIII), the answer could be XI/II. Once you start looking for alternative answers, there are many different ways to answer the question.
This exercise helps you realize that there are answers beyond the obvious.
Exercise II. Why are manhole covers round?
The answer is simply based on geometry: there is only one shape that prevents a manhole cover from falling through a manhole: a circle. This question highlights your visual biases. It’s easy to look at a familiar object and impose your own sense of order on it, based on your particular interests or ways of processing information.
Exercise III. What’s in a Bic? Imagine an empty Bic ballpoint pen body. Record ten possible uses of the barrel in one minute.
This exercise shows that nothing is ever truly “new” and that an idea should not be overlooked because it is not 100% original.
It also demonstrates historical biases: a pen is a pen is a pen. But the potential uses of the products change over time. Do not miss new applications for a product or its separate elements due to limited reflection.
To move beyond assumptions about your industry/business, you must first be able to identify them:
- What are the assumptions under which my industry operates?
- What assumptions does my business operate under?
- What are the rules governing how your industry/business interacts with customers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, etc. ?
McKinney’s killer questions featured in Beyond the obvious emphasize that innovation is a process accessible to anyone willing to engage. Prepare for this methodology by first defining your industry and business assumptions.
For innovation at its finest, check out the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Each year, 25 global entrepreneurs spend 6 weeks at the institute creating products and services that will benefit at least one million people: http://unreasonableinstitute.org.
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