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  • Writer's pictureConnar Stratton

How to build robust and invincible ideas

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

Bananas are at the top of the WWF’s endangered species list.

They are not really at the top, but this fact is actually more plausible than you may think. In reality, the banana is under constant threat of extinction. Nearly 99% of the world’s exported bananas are of a variety called the Cavendish banana, favoured due to its high-yields and aesthetics. However, Cavendish bananas are grown through cloning, so if you have tried one banana, you have tried them all.

The monoculture that emerged led to efficiencies, economies of scale and a familiar yellow banana loved by all. However, the monoculture also exposes bananas to genetic attacks, ie. as soon as one banana is threatened by a disease, all of them are. Panama disease is the greatest threat to bananas today, steadily wiping out the entire population. (The entire banana population, then the Gros Michel breed, was actually wiped out once in the 50’s)

So beyond the banana catastrophe, what can we take from this and how does it relate to innovation? Well, I was recently thinking about the idea of a new PRM (C2C version of a CRM) solution. When I pitched the idea to my closest management consultant and start-up friends, they instantly understood and supported my idea.

Although I enjoyed their validation, I was reminded of a book I read when I was a child:

Imagine a forest that you must pass through - however, this forest is so peaceful, that those who enter, may be lulled into staying and never leave. To pass through the forest, who should you take with you: your closest friend or your worst enemy?

Your friends comfort you with their presence and fruits of affirmation, until you forget that you ever want to leave the forest at all. Meanwhile, your enemy perpetually challenges you to keep your sharpest wits, one eye on them and one eye on the horizon - looking for a way out, and a way forward.

How do I know that my PRM idea is the one that would get me out of the forest of mediocrity? To really build a great idea, you need to challenge yourself to push onwards through the forest, ignoring the natural comforts. By disrupting your own idea before the market does, it develops resilience and evolves to be a far stronger and effective force, immune to the Panama disease that would otherwise threaten your banana monoculture. (See Netflix disrupting its own DVD-by-mail business and pivoting to streaming from 2007, despite 1 billion deliveries and 10 million active customers.)

We disrupt our own idea and banana monoculture by finding the enemy who would challenge and push our idea from the forest and into the blue ocean of opportunity. I believe that effective innovation involves finding your biggest sceptics and challenging them to tear your ideas apart. Again. Again. And Again. (Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, has a great podcast that explores this idea further, likening it to jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down.)

As uncomfortable as it was, I shared my PRM idea with my ex-girlfriend from the fashion industry, who long-ago dismissed any sensitivity she may have had towards my feelings. As she called me names for even considering that people would want to manage friends through an app, I realised she was right. But how about a PRM that manages your dating life, integrating with your dating apps? There’s a clear objective or sale to be attained and an inherent messiness in dating. Every time that you rebuild, your idea will be stronger and more resilient.

The monoculture we experience with our forest friends can blind to the Panama disease that those outside of our social circle can diagnose immediately. The problem is there is an inherent comfort in our monoculture, where we enjoy the same yellow banana and our own experiences and biases provide us all the excuse we need to say that we are doing the right thing. (Nassim Taleb’s book Black Swan tackles confirmation bias in depth. The title is derived from humanity’s tendency to make assumptions such as ‘all swans are white’, until our swan knowledge is upended by the existence of one Australian black swan.)

It takes imagination to have a good idea, but it takes humility to have a great idea. Companies are finally starting to implement D&I quotas to encourage diversity of opinions, but how can you personally break out of your own monoculture when discussing concepts or ideas? Next time you have a brainstorm or have a start-up idea to share, make an effort to find a dissenter, free of your banana monoculture. Maybe they’re the sceptic that your great idea needs.


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