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The Miracle of Thought: The Birth of an Idea

Daddy, where do ideas come from?

Leave it to my five-year-old to stump me with a wildly difficult question while trying to dress him for his first day of kindergarten. While I’m not yet ready for ‘where do babies come from?’, at least I could answer that one. Unfortunately, trying to describe where ideas come from, I’m afraid I failed the old adage, “if you can explain it to a five year old, you can explain it to anyone.” Or is it a third grader? Well, hopefully you get my point. While this question from a wide-eyed child is no less than adorable, its novelty wears thin when seeking ideas and innovation in the professional world. Competitive pressures, constantly changing consumer preferences, and technology all converge to force companies to innovate. And not just innovate products and services but innovate entirely new business models and ways of working. Disruption is knocking at your door and by the time you answer, you may no longer have a door. If you think it’s hard to say where ideas come from, try to force one out right now. And if I can expand on my five-year-old’s question a little further, where does innovation come from? For that matter, where does breakthrough innovation come from?

Being in the consulting profession, we are called to produce ideas and solve problems every day – multiple times a day – but where do we get all these ideas? Practically speaking, these ideas emerge from our collective experiences, education, and research into business practices and trends. Still, the notions of where ideas come from and how innovation happens continue to puzzle businesses as they strive for growth and differentiation in an ever-complex and competitive world. In a survey of 500 global CEOs, Accenture found that 93% of CEOs believe organization’s long-term success depends on its ability to innovate. Unfortunately, in another survey of over 1,300 CEOs, PWC discovered that 86% of CEOs are disappointed with their innovation efforts, capabilities, and results.

CEO Innovation Difficulties

Clearly innovation is critical to an organization’s growth and sustainability, and sadly so few are confident in their ability to deliver. The innovation imperative is a remarkably fascinating topic to discuss – just try Googling it and witness the renowned academic institutions, authors, associations, and scientists discussing it ad nauseam. Research and academia can spend the next 50 years studying innovation, but we thought it was time to take it off the books and into the streets, so to speak.

Enter ‘Transit Talk’. To directly answer where this idea came from, look no further than Jerry Seinfeld’s popular web series, ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.’ In this hilarious and revealing series following two famous comedians going for a ride and kibitzing over a cup of coffee, Seinfeld offers the viewer a glimpse into the world of comedy and the artists that make us laugh. The content is presented in easily digestible 17-minute chunks – just the right dose for killing time while waiting at the gate for your flight to board. We thought it was time to open the doors to what consultants really talk about – to open a forum for discussion on some meaty topics. And, while we drink coffee (and generally speaking, a LOT of coffee…), we didn’t want to so shamelessly rip off the concept as to call it ‘Consultants in Cars Getting Coffee’. We thought we’d expand the format to capture the many forms of transportation we take in our road warrior lifestyles – where the rubber hits the road (or where the train hits the track, or the boat hits the water, or…you get the picture) and where the conversations really happen. If I had a dollar for every great idea we’ve come up with on the cab ride from Manhattan to La Guardia…

Transit talks - Breaking through Breakthrough Innovation

Thus was born the idea of Transit Talk. We wanted to create the best possible format for expressing ideas and sharing insights in a medium that reached our diverse networks – clients, prospects, recruits, analysts, industry influencers, etc. The web series – offered in 3-minute snippets – spotlights real conversations between consultants about the challenges and opportunities they are experiencing in serving titans of industry, specifically consumer products and life sciences companies. And to make it just a little bit fun, we feature consultants in their natural habitat (when not at their client sites): planes, trains and automobiles, namely, but watch for some fun episodes where we explore some more novel forms of transit. Walking! Biking! Segway-ing! Believe me, we have plenty of ideas for ways to both entertain you and challenge you with some thought-provoking topics.

And in the spirit of ideas and insights (and to admittedly help me be better prepared to answer my 5-year-old), we thought it fitting to launch our first webisode featuring a topic all about ideas and where they come from. “Breakthrough Innovation” features yours truly and one of my partners in Clarkston’s management consulting practice, Nadim Yacteen, grabbing an Uber from the RDU airport to our Durham headquarters. On the quick ride, with a detour through downtown Raleigh to grab a cup of coffee, Nadim and I discuss breakthrough innovation and where it comes from. I won’t spoil the punchline, but watch to find out what Henry Ford, French industrial painters, sewing machines and meatpacking plants all have in common.

Tags: New Product Commercialization, Strategic Innovation