To innovate recognize when the system you are in is stuck

Last year, I wrote that a smart way to spot opportunities for innovation is to look for ‘undeniable truths’. Situations, ideas, statements that cause people to nod their heads in agreement.

And to make my point, I used a cartoon from The Oatmeal about why customer service sucks. Well, here’s another one (they do come in handy don’t they?) about why restaurant websites suck:


What I want from a restaurant website


What I get instead

I’m sure you’re nodding your head in agreement. I am too.

It’s such a big problem, that irrelevant web design may be costing restaurants some business. And, because it’s such an undeniable truth, Farhad Manjoo of Slate Magazine wrote a piece about it: Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?

What’s funny is that while working with a client a few months ago, Pulpo Enamorado, we noticed the same thing: The vast majority of restaurant websites look the same, and are very much irrelevant because they don’t add to the overall brand experience.

We proposed a different alternative, but our client would not budge. They believe that people expect to have the same experience online as they do offline, and their website should reflect that. The end result, is a lot of special effects and a whole lot of the same you see in the cartoon.

They ended up outsourcing this to another agency because we didn’t agree with them.

Anyway, this is not a post about why restaurant websites suck (although I can think of many other things that suck), I just want to make the point that opportunities for innovation are everywhere.


All systems have an expiration date

No system is perfect or will ever be, and any new system we create, should be seen as a temporary solution because it will eventually become stuck. Some systems will last longer that others. Governments, institutions, businesses, organizations, business models all started with a distinct set of beliefs about how things are and should be done; a mental model. But this initial mental model eventually runs it’s course, much like it happened to the world of music and publishing.

Heck, even the mighty Japanese Yakuza have had to evolve. They no longer have the same perks they used to. The combination of the the economic recession and the new generation of young people has changed the game for them, and now they have to adapt to this new world where they’re not as mighty as before.

To innovate, you have to recognize when the system you are in is stuck. More importantly, you have to recognize when you are stuck in the same mental model as everyone else.

Another important point, is to be on the lookout for what people are fed up with, because that could indicate a point of tension or inconveniences that people have grown complacent to. You can also be fed up with something and decide to do something about it. By solving your own problem, you solve other people’s problem too.

Recognizing when the system is stuck

You can learn to understand stuck-ness. How?

Start by familiarizing yourself with the two mental dynamics that characterize the condition, and then analyze your situation to see whether one or both exists. It may be your company or your competition that exhibits these dynamics. In either case, you need to understand what is happening.

The two mental dynamics are:

  • The system is stuck in a set of beliefs that prevent people from seeing change as possible.
  • The system is living in a story that leads people to inaction.

If you or your competition is experiencing one or both of these dynamics, the current climate is ripe for innovation.

Ask yourself: What are the givens in your industry, category, business? What’s taken for granted? What do people believe to be true? Where is the system stuck?

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