A few days after the 2006 Corante Innovative Marketing Conference, my head is still spinning. I was thoroughly impressed by the number of people who are recognizing that instead of relying on top-down strategic thinking that a bottom-up strategy must be developed in order to deal with the radical shifts that are happening as people outside the walls of the company are beginning to use new technology to co-create with brands, for better or worse. It seems that learning is at the core of understanding and capitalizing on the opportunities that these cultural shifts present.
Thus, the principle that learning has to be greater than or equal to change is at the core of a bottom-up strategy. The one constant in these turbulent times is that change is happening faster than ever; thus, learning has to happen even more quickly. Part of the learning process requires knowing what to do with the intelligence you acquire; this is the step that facilitates real change. This idea may seem quite simple, yet it may be challenging too many people who have traditionally been involved in product development.
While learning has always needed to be greater than change in order for a company to grow, the rate of this change has accelerated from the old business environment, where change occurred gradually, during a decade or over the course of someone’s career. Today, change seems to happen overnight. One day you are ahead of the pack and the very next day you are struggling to keep up.
This means that the rate of learning has to be greater in order for any company to survive. So what do you do? With more information available, people have to acknowledge that what they perceive as being the whole picture is only a small slice of reality. Any company’s world can be segmented into three areas: what we know, what we know we don’t know and what we don’t know we don’t know.
One of the problems that we all face in today’s more dynamic world is that the area of what we don’t know we don’t know cannot be blissfully ignored, due to its disruptive potential. Companies need to recognize this segment of their world and try to reduce it, using inspiration from the bottom-up.
Businesses often approach strategic planning as a very top-down, rigid process; even the language they use is far too structured and solemn. Planning, in its nature, requires an acceptance of the unknown and receptiveness to new ideas. Unfortunately, many companies’ reaction to an influx of new information is to fall into the ‘paralysis by analysis’ syndrome. Other companies react by panicking and making important decisions too quickly.
The ideal solution, but one that doesn’t come easily to most companies, is to rely more heavily on intuition. This is a huge paradigm shift for most businesses. People need bottom-up tools that give them the confidence to rely on their intuition when exploring the world. Businesses need fast, “real” and connected ways of making meaning of their quickly changing realities. The goal of the second section of the book is to help you build your own set of bottom-up tools, giving you the ability to develop relevant innovation faster. Inspiration developed using a bottom-up strategy can give a company the confidence needed to drive real innovation.
Bottom-up learning demands that companies are prepared to make serious mistakes when exploring their communities with their customers. It means that people inside companies need to be unintimidated, spontaneous, unconditioned, and expressive in these explorations. They need to be allowed the space to learn through stories from their communities. Companies need to revel in these stories and be creative in their interactions with other community members.