How to Kill a Unicorn; book notes and summary

Book Title:  How to Kill a Unicorn; How the Worlds hottest innovation factory builds bold ideas that make it to market.  Mark Payne the founder of Fahrenheit 212 is the author of the book and provides his playbook on how he has helped major companies transform their businesses through innovation.

This book was a great read because it really is a playbook on how to take a problem or go through a systematic process that can lead a company to the right solution for break through innovations in their business or sector.  I pulled out the major pieces that I found to be most insightful and beneficial in pursuing this transformation.

1.  Assume transformation is necessary:

The only way transformation can occur is for everyone to realize that transformation is necessary.   Assuming that transformation is necessary changes the conversation in the team from “should we transform something” to “what will we transform?”

2.  Cultivate a healthy disrespect for present reality:

Consciously try to identify things in your category, consumer experience, products, and business that just are the way they are, without needing to really be that way.  In most businesses you’ll find a long list of them, with transformational questions hidden inside.  In an age of personalization, where there is such tremendous breadth in consumers financial means and trajectories, why do most fixed mortgages only come in fifteen and thirty year increments?  When just a small segment of the population finds full strength spirits palatable, why is 98 percent of the category sold in a way that’s stronger than consumers can handle?

3.  Temporarily forget what you know:

Knowledge is a potent form of competitive advantage.  But there is often a razor-thin line between a knowledge base and the entrenched paradigms that have been attached to it over time and permeated innovation in your category.  Knowledge is power in certain moments in the journey, but the kryptonite in others if not properly harnessed.

4.  Ask yourself how likely it is that your competitors aren’t working on the same questions you are:

Picture yourself right now sitting in the room with your project team at your competitors office. Would they be working around similar questions?  If so, you probably haven’t cracked the transformational questions you’ll need to get to for transformational answers.  The point is not to second guess what your rivals are up to, but simply to gauge your own conviction that you’ve uncovered through transformational questions.  Big thinkers find big questions exciting.  So if you don’t viscerally feel that you’ve broken new ground, you probably haven’t.

5. Move the camera around the room:

Finding the big transformational change usually happens by distancing ourselves from the prevailing category context we live in every day and approaching it from a fresh angle.  This doesn’t just work metaphorically; it works literally, too.  Looking at your ice cream business not through the eyes of the consumer, but from the perspective of the ice cream behind the frosted freezer glass watching consumers go by (like an orphan hoping for adoption), may open a powerful new set of questions to ignite transformational innovation. If that doesn’t work, deconstruct the life cycle of an ice crystal born in the churn at the factory, or ask what the spoon would say as its bent in the act of scooping.

6.  Learn to hear the thundering sound of the things that isn’t being said:

Paradigm-creep isn’t just a company phenomenon. It happens to consumers, too.  They often become so accustomed to embedded characteristics and compromises that they don’t even think or talk about them.  (When was the last time you got to work and said “Boy, how about gravity today?”)  A great innovator needs to ask every touch point –what didn’t we hear that was interesting?  In the pursuit of transformational change the what is not said is often the most telling.

Creating an inversion:  An inversion is when you take the most glaring flaw or weakness in   a company and flip it on its head creating a breakthrough new competitive advantage, business model, or innovation platform.  An example of this would be Vitamin Water.  Taking a bland boring product and using that as the base and then turning that into a dynamic, delightful, colorful, beverage.  Or Zappos.  Taking the headache of getting the wrong size shoe by shopping online and turning that into a better experience.

How to create an inversion:

  • Aim beyond small improvements in your strengths.
  • Be willing to have your future compete with your present.
  • Hunt for late mover advantage, even if you’re the incumbent. Ask this question:  “If we were starting a business today, would it look anything like the way it looks now?”
  • Remember that the big flip never happens by accident, you have to actively look for it.
  • With all due respect to the importance of core competencies, don’t neglect the potency of core incompetencies.
  • Remember that the opportunities you’re after are probably hidden in plain sight. Many innovations are born by digging deeper beneath the surface, we often find that great inversions come about by deciding not to dig at all, just taking on things that have been right there on the surface all along.

I hope that this summary and notes gets you thinking about your business, but since I am also the self-proclaimed self-development addict. How can you apply these concepts to your own personal business, the business of you?  I would love to hear how you applied these concepts to creating a breakthrough innovation for yourself.

To your success and your future.



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