Fearless Culture
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Fearless Culture

The Vague Gap Between Innovation And Empty Promises

Reflections on Gap CEO’s letter to a curious girl

Don’t Confuse a PR Stunt with Real Innovation -Pic by Jerry Kiesewetter

I was intrigued by this inc. magazine article: The CEO of Gap Took a 5-Year-Old’s Complaint from Idea to Major Change in Just 2 Weeks”.

I was so naif to assume that the “reaction” meant the launch of a new line of kids products. One that was more aligned with this 5-year-old girl’s taste preferences. Alice Jacobs, that’s her name, prefers dinosaurs or superheroes t-shirts rather than being dressed in pink or princess-like clothes.

Unfortunately, after reading the piece, I realized how deceiving the headline was. Gap CEO’s response was just that: a nice letter.

So, where’s the major change?

Don’t Confuse a PR Stunt with Real Innovation

“Can you make some cool girls’ shirts please?” — Alice Jacobs

After Alice’s letter spread across the globe, it was a hard PR opportunity to ignore. Don’t get me wrong. Gap CEO made the right move by personally responding to a kid’s letter requesting clothes that weren’t so girly.

I think the company was confronted with a bigger opportunity and could do much better.

I don’t even care if the letter was written by a PR person and the CEO simply reviewed it and signed it. Or if it looked condescending by calling the kid “cool” or sending her free tees.

What I don’t get is why do we celebrate Gap’s response –like the article in question did- as if the company has actually changed something. Because, in business, talking doesn’t mean real change.

Take this line for example: “we try to always offer a wide range of styles and choices for girls and boys.”

Does this answer show the desire of Gap to challenge its current approach to kid clothes design? Or is it simply a PR stunt?

I don’t know that for sure. What’s clear is the opportunity to bridge the gap between words and real innovation.

Let’s Drive Real Innovation

“There’s a way to do it better — find it.” — Thomas Edison

1. Don’t assume you understood your client message: Giving someone what they asked for (ie: a T-Rex t-shirt) is not always the solution. It might be a nice first step. But before replying, get to know people better first. Customers express their needs the best way they can, but cannot tell you what will really delight them.

2. Understand the emotional need: Empathy (research) is the most powerful tool that we use in the field of innovation. It’s about understanding –rather than assuming- how it feels to walk in someone else’s shoes. Invite Alice (and some of her friends) to your place. Let her share her stories with your designers. Not just about clothes but about her life, her friends, family, pets, what’s moves her. Personal stories are the secret ingredient of innovation.

3. Invite real people to the party: Better indeed, involve your customers in the process. Having girls, like Alice, involved in initial brainstorming sessions can be eye opening for designers. In my experience, when you add kids to the creative process, only great things can happen.

4. Embrace fast prototyping: This is a great opportunity for Gap to quickly deliver a new approach to girl’s fashion, not just a new t-shirt’s design. Involving girls both in the empathy and brainstorm process not only can deliver more interesting ideas but can accelerate the overall turnaround. It could be a nice first step to challenge the category standard that new products are only introduced on a per-season basis.

5. Turn listening into a new behavior: Alice’s letter was just another reminder of the gap between what companies think and what people really want. What new initiatives can this spark for Gap? Like creating more interesting channels for people to provide on-going feedback. Or a crowd-sourced platform for kids and teens to submit their ideas. Or a bring kids to work initiative, where Gap CEO can spend a couple of hours listening first-hand to their ideas. Also a great reminder of who the real customer is.

6. Be clear on what your brand stands for. Is Gap a brand for “princesses who want to dress in pink”? Or for the “cool girls” who don’t want to be put in a box? Strong brands have to stand for something. Appealing to a larger audience is possible only when you have a strong purpose. But if you are simply trying to please everyone then your act can become a PR stunt.

Yes, Feedback Is a Gift

I agree with Justin Bariso that feedback is a gift. But feedback is more than just listening. Feedback is what we do with that unexpected gift, as I wrote here.

Let’s get better at understanding our customers. Let go of our preconceived notions. Learn to ask more questions. Get to know people’s deep needs by making the innovation process more inclusive.

When you open the doors, only great things can happen.

Let’s bridge the gap between feedback and real innovation.

Before You Go

Gustavo Razzetti is the founder of Liberationist. You can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Liberationist is a Change Leadership School that helps organizations become more adaptive, experimental and resilient.

Want to stretch for change? Reach out: stretch@liberationist.org



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Gustavo Razzetti

Gustavo Razzetti


I help teams and organizations build fearless cultures. Author of “Remote, Not Distant” → https://amzn.to/3PQuzX8