How to master 'tweaks, twists and twinkles' - innovation paths from Giles Lury, author of ‘Iconic Innovations’

In this interview, bestselling author Giles Lury shares advice on the innovation mindset, marketing for entrepreneurs, and the importance of perseverance.

Giles Lury is director at brand consultancy The Value Engineers, and the author of Iconic Innovations: 75 Business Tales to Help You Find the Next Big Thing (see my book review here). He has written six other books, including Adwatching, The Prisoner and the Penguin, and How Coca-Cola Took Over the World.

In a chat with YourStory, Giles talks about the ‘3Ts’ of innovation (tweaks, twists, twinkles), challenges in bringing innovations successfully to market, and the importance of learning from failure.

Edited excerpts from the interview

YourStory (YS): In the time since your book was published, what are some notable new innovations you have come across?

Giles Lury (GL): Perhaps some of the most interesting examples relate to how businesses and brands are having to innovate to address some of the challenges that the world is facing with respect to environmental sustainability.

Two that have caught my eye are Adidas’ 100 percent recyclable performance running shoe, and the glue invented for Carlsberg to replace the plastic ring holder used on multi-packs of cans.

YS: How was your book received? What were some of the unusual responses and reactions you got?

GL: The book has been well received gaining a number of positive reviews and comments. One nice response was someone who said that they didn’t get to finish it because their daughter ‘stole’ it. She had started reading it and was so engaged that she took it away to university with her.

Perhaps the most unusual response was from a client. He said to me, “Don’t be offended Giles but your book has made it to our lavatory – which is quite an honour as it’s the place where most books are read in our house.”

YS: What made you choose 75 innovations for the book, and not 50 or 100?

GL: This is, in fact, my third book of ‘brand stories’ (the second has been published by Jaico Publishing House as well, and in India, it has the title From Ideas to Iconic Brands).

Regarding the number of stories in my book, I did 75 in my first book and 100 in the second but decided that 75 was the right balance – not too many so the book becomes a bit too big (as it did with 100) but not too small and not good value which it would have been with only 50!

YS: What’s it like to be an innovation consultant – what are the joys and challenges in your journey?

GL: It’s always interesting! One of the challenges is that innovation covers a spectrum of ideas – the ‘3Ts,’ from ‘tweaks’ (new flavours, varieties), ‘twists’ (rearrangement of things that already exist), and ‘twinkles’ (the twinkle in the eyes, the dreams that lead to radical often technologically-led innovations).

Clients tend to say they want a bit of all of them. But they don’t necessarily understand that it takes a different approach and a different mindset to come up with them, nurture them, and evaluate them. Innovation isn’t ‘one size fits all.’


YS: How big a role do academics play in innovation management? Can innovation really be formally taught?

GL: Academics can and do play a multitude of roles in innovation. Research in universities is a major source of technological and biomedical innovation, for example.

Many of the research techniques used have their basis in the social sciences. Marketing faculties have done a good job at collating and codifying best practice in new product and service development.

As for teaching innovation – it can be taught, though, like many things, practice is very important too. There are also people who have a natural gift for it and they rarely need teaching but can make great mentors.

YS: Most of the case studies in your book feature commercial products and services. What are your findings with regard to innovative ways of social and political change?

GL: My whole career has been spent in the marketing world – advertising, innovation, research and design, so I’m not sure I’m really qualified to talk extensively on the subject. But as an observer, I have been interested in the innovative use of social media.

The application of behavioural theory is clearly another trend. The British government has what is known as the ‘Nudge Unit’, which is linked to No. 10 Downing Street. It has worked on a variety of social change initiatives like making people eat more healthily.


YS: What are the typical challenges entrepreneurs face as they try to bring their inventions to the market? How can these challenges be addressed?

GL: This varies enormously by sector and type of business – from startups to existing mega-brands (think Apple). But here are some key challenges:

•       Getting the business model right

•       Securing a route to market (will the supermarket stock you; what brand are you going to replace)

•       Working out how will you get known and ‘cut-through’ in the face of other brands

•       Striking the right balance between offering something new and scaring people who are often resistant to change

•       Finding a ‘killer application’ and simple powerful communication of the benefit.

YS: How should innovators strike that delicate balance between ‘Stick to your vision’ and ‘Adapt to a changed world’?

GL: That indeed is a delicate balance, and perhaps the ultimate choice comes down to the person and/or team involved and how much they truly believe in their idea, and what new or better changes it brings to the market.

If that commitment is there, there are plenty of examples of perseverance paying off. If that real belief isn’t there and indications are poor, then it may be time to move on.

YS: Is there such a thing as the ‘ideal age’ for an innovator, or can the creative bug strike you at any time?

GL: There is no age limit on innovation. What’s important is not how old you are but how curious you are, whether you have the imagination and the commitment to make it happen.

It is perhaps worth remembering that the old quote about “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” It isn’t a bad motto for innovators. If you aren’t up for hard work and learning new things, then innovation and entrepreneurship might not be for you.

YS: Who are some of the innovators you admire the most today, and what makes them special?

GL: James Dyson is probably an obvious choice but that doesn’t stop him being someone I admire. His ideas are often radical (he’s creative), he made over 5,000 prototypes of his first vacuum cleaner (he’s persistent), and he has innovated in more than one market (he’s versatile).

He has also used some of his wealth to sponsor and invest in innovation in universities (he’s a ‘good guy’).

YS: It’s one thing to fail with a product, and a bigger dimension to fail with a company. How should innovators regroup in these two situations of failure?

GL: Failure is such a negative word whether it’s applied to a product, company, or person. Innovators know that many of their ideas will never see the light of day, and the best of them don’t see these as failures but as learning experiences. 

Some powerful quotes and thoughts that come to mind are:

Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker.

Failure is delay, not defeat.

Paraphrasing another quote: what innovators should do when setbacks happen is pick themselves up, dust themselves down, learn the lessons, and move on.

YS: How should innovators evaluate weak signals and anecdotal evidence which seem to contradict quantitative market trends?

GL: Opportunity often lies at points of contradiction. When the whole world seems to be rushing one way, there are normally opportunities in doing the complete opposite.

The opportunity may not be of the same size or scale as to where the market is heading, but it could still be profitable. For example, in the age of computers there has been growth in ‘traditional’ fountain pens.

YS: What are the success factors for government and industry to work together and grow innovation in their countries?

GL: I think this is a tough question as there are so many different types of innovations which come from so many different sources. Here are some ways of working together:

•       Celebrating innovation (eg. national awards, honours)

•       Tax relief on R&D

•       Helping to change the narrative around failure.

YS: How should organisations tap the innovation wave, and overcome their internal change management challenges?

GL: The development of an innovation culture can really help. This can include things like celebrating success, learning from ‘failures’ (not blaming people for it), and the provision of some allocated time for people to pursue their own ideas for the business (which has paid huge dividends for 3M, Google, and others).

Re-designing the building or office can also encourage colleagues to meet and interact with new people. The Pixar campus is an excellent example.

YS: What is your next book going to be about?

GL: I’m actually working on two books at the moment. One will be a book of stories about brands and their marketing: the twist will be that the brands will all come from the pharma and healthcare markets.

The second book which I am co-authoring explores women in marketing. What I realised was that every marketer knows the stories of Lord Lever, Charles Revson, and Steve Jobs, and has probably read Al Ries, Jack Trout, Philip Kotler, and Byron Sharp. They have seen the work of Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, Wally Olins, and John Hegarty. What’s interesting about these ‘Masters of Marketing’, is that they are all men.

The huge contribution to the marketing of women – the innovations, the creation of brands, their design, their growth and their often amazing revitalisations – is by contrast ignored or overlooked. Their stories, their challenges, and their success just don’t get the same airtime. 

The book is a celebration of what women have bought to marketing and what the future holds for them. It will be a mixture of stories, interviews, and analysis.

YS: What is your parting message to the startups and aspiring innovators in our audience?

GL: Stay curious!

(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)


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