Naivety in innovation, time to shake sh*t up

Alan Bryant
Nov 27, 2017 · 4 min read

It feels like not a week passes by without a story about a large, old company losing market share to a start-up or an emerging industry. As procrastinate whilst trying to write this, there is a chart on Twitter highlighting the decline of Nokia over the past 5 years. This of course isn’t anything new, the Kodak moment has made it into popular vernacular (at least inside advertising agencies), but it is clearly becoming more prevalent.

Fin-Tech companies are taking on the banks, streaming services are changing the music industries business model, messaging apps are changing the way that Telco companies sell their goods. Even traditional currencies are being threatened by the growth of crypto.

Jeff Bezos summed up the situation well in this years letter to shareholders, “It is key for businesses to stay in Day 1, day 1 is innovation. Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death”. But how do big businesses stay in day 1? Or in many cases get back to day 1 from the jaws of death?

Innovation is the recipe that leads to start-ups creating new industries or disrupting existing ones. If big businesses don’t learn to act in this way then day 2 is going to approach quickly. What a shame then that so few are getting it right.

Too often big businesses look only to industry expertise as the route to innovative solutions. People who have been in an industry their whole career think they have all the answers. However expertise in isolation leads to bias’, you take too much direction from experiences that have come before, limiting your opportunities. You don’t look at the problem with a fresh pair of eyes. This is not to say that expertise isn’t important in the innovation process, but that to be most effective expertise needs to be combined with a healthy dose of naivety.

As Shunryu Suzuku says in Zen mind, Beginners mind — “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the experts there are few.”

Naivety is the opposite of expertise, you have no limits, you’re completely fresh to the problem, you have no preconceived idea of what is, or isn’t, possible. This means that you push the envelope when it comes to innovation and creativity. Leading to ideas that disrupt the business in a positive way, in a way that nudges you back towards day 1.

This isn’t a case for naivety alone. Neither naivety nor expertise alone creates the most innovative solutions, only when you team the two together will you reap the rewards.

So how do you bring naivety you’re your organisation or project?

Co-Create with young people

Co-creation is the buzzword of the moment in innovation consultancies and advertising agencies. But when it comes to naivety co-creation with young people is particularly powerful. Pairing young people who are brimming with creativity but who can lack commercial nous, with a team of experts who have years of experience across strategy and creative.

This is an approach we use on every project at Livity, it’s what we’ve built our business on, and what we help clients do. It allows us to get to different and innovative solutions, because young people haven’t been jaded by previous failures, they are naïve in the greatest way. And teaming this with the structure and knowledge of an industry expert creates game changing results.

Bring in an expert from a different industry

You can also bring in an expert from a different field. A person from outside your industry brings with them an understanding of the world of work, but bring a fresh perspective to your industry’s problems.

Imagine a programme where companies could put staff out on loan to different industries — driving innovation across the board whilst giving staff new experiences at the same time.

Teaching yourself to take on a beginner’s mind

It is also possible to train yourself in the beginner’s mind. Training yourself to see the world from new angles and not allowing the challenges that you’ve faced before to cloud your vision going forward. However this is a longer and arguably less effective route to success.

The reason for this is that it’s key with all of these approached that the people bringing the naivety remain outliers. A common mistake is to think bringing in people with a fresh perspective and embedding them in a team over a long period of time is the solution. However it has been proven that if a team spends a lot of time together they also start to think like each other. This phenomenon is called ‘groupthink’. It is key therefore that outliers remain outliers or they will no longer challenge the thinking of the team.

So in summary, it’s time to shake sh*t up when it comes to innovation, otherwise you’re going to be quickly heading towards day 2: Stasis; followed by irrelevance; followed by excruciating, painful decline; followed by death. And nobody wants that.


A place for my musings and experiments

Alan Bryant

Written by

Head of Strategy @ Livity LDN. Fan of philosophy and design. Mostly here to get random thoughts out of my head.


A place for my musings and experiments

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade