inside the box

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Constraints are a source of opportunity for innovation

When it comes to creativity and innovation, our clients or managers often ask us to Think outside the box and to consider everything. This way of thinking supposedly generates superior ideas. Thinking outside the box is still a very popular concept and it makes us feel like the sky is the limit.

However, studies show that Thinking outside the box does not generate more and better ideas. Moreover, when people are given a blank page they often feel blocked and sometimes even feel fear. People experience the paralysis of choice. Where to start? What to do? What not to do?

Psychological research tells us that constraining our thought processes actually stimulates creativity. It may sound counter-intuitive that we become more creative when our thinking is constrained. But it’s true. When we create our own box of constraints, thinking inside that box helps us become more creative.

A lack of resources is perhaps one of the most common forms of constraints. What typically happens if we have only a few resources to work with? We have less choice and need to think of new ways to use what we have. Extremely constrained situations in which people can find themselves, such as great poverty, imprisonment or war, show just how creative people can become.

Many industries have a high degree of regulation. The constraint formed by regulation limits a company’s actions but at the same time it often offers room for opportunity. Often when regulation changes or additional regulation is imposed, new commercial initiatives are introduced and new companies enter the marketplace.


Voluntary constraints also trigger creativity. In 1960, his publisher Random House bet Theodor Geisel that he couldn’t write a children’s book using only fifty unique words. Talking about constraints: just fifty words! Under his pseudonym Dr Seuss, Geisel published Green Eggs and Ham, using exactly fifty different words. Kids love this book and it became the fourth best-selling children’s book ever.

Another more recent example is Twitter, a very successful $ 24 billion dollar company whose traditional product is very constrained. Twitter forces its users to use 140 characters or less for their tweets. By constraining the number of characters, people are forced to express themselves more creatively.

We need to foster constraints to generate highly creative ideas and to become successful in innovation. Constraints come in different forms and shapes: strategic […]

By |January 18th, 2016|2016, Blog|0 Comments

Stop gambling with the future of your company: take control of innovation

Three important prerequisites for successful innovation

Can you honestly imagine anyone saying: “We are relying on our product managers to have a Eureka moment” or “we are just waiting to get lucky”? No way! But yet, this is often reality when it comes to innovation.

Popular well-known products came about by some stroke of luck. Pure serendipity. The seeming abundance of examples on the internet conceals the fact that this is only an insignificant minority of innovations. Organizations can’t just rely on luck as their source of innovation. The future of a company must not depend on it. Moreover, it really is gambling with the future of your company.


Companies must take control of innovation. Evidence shows that companies that are most successful at innovation have taken control by approaching it in an integrated and structural way. Here are three of the most important prerequisites for successful innovation:

First, companies need a reliable and continuous stream of innovative ideas that can be brought to the market at regular intervals. Having this pipeline of ideas in place, makes innovation much more predictable. Similar to managing customers through different stages of maturity in a Sales funnel, ideas are being managed from their rudimentary form, through concepts until market introduction.

The second prerequisite is that innovation must include the entire organization. It’s not just the job of the product managers or the Marketing department to generate these new ideas. It should be the job of truly everybody in the company: from the receptionist to the CFO. Innovation must not be the exclusive domain of a specific group of people. Involving everybody creates ownership and stimulates commitment. Furthermore, it helps generate more and better ideas.

Will everybody in the company just be thinking outside the box and freely brainstorming ideas? Even though this may generate ideas that have potential value, it leads to idea-anarchy. Constraining the process of idea generation is the third prerequisite for successful innovation. Adding constraints forces us to think inside the box, which makes us more creative and more innovative.

Regain control of your innovation. Adopt a structured and integrated approach.


© Ernst-Jan van Batenburg, FlyWheel Business

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By |January 18th, 2016|2016, Blog|0 Comments

Recognizing proven innovation patterns in Netflix

Netflix fundamentally changes the way we watch movies and shows. We now have a vast number of shows available that we can watch at any time we like, anywhere, on any device. We can play and pause at will and create favorite lists. Start binging ladies and gentlemen!

Netflix (NFLX) is one of the most successful dot-com ventures ever with a current market capitalization of around 27 Billion dollars. In just over a year after its introduction in the Netherlands in September 2013, the national Netflix subscriber base has reached the 700,000 mark.


The conditions in The Netherlands are very favorable for Netflix. The fast growth in the Netflix customer base is in part fueled by the widespread availability of broadband internet and high-speed 4G/LTE mobile networks. Moreover, smartphone penetration in the country is expected to pass 50% in the near future.

And there are other factors that make Netflix successful. In their book Inside the Box, Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg describe five underlying patterns that account for the majority of successful highly innovative products. They have called the method: Systematic Inventive Thinking, or SIT.

All five SIT patterns can be recognized in the Netflix service and business model when we compare it to traditional television. We will briefly look at a few of those patterns.

Let’s start with the Subtraction pattern, the pattern in which is a component that was formerly thought of as being essential has been removed. Notice that there are no commercial breaks anymore? Commercials have been taken out of the business model, they are no longer needed and the absence of it creates new benefits. We can now enjoy an uninterrupted program.

Let’s build on that: an uninterrupted program that can be paused and resumed at will. Something that wasn’t possible with traditional television in the past. The SIT pattern that you can see at work here is called Division. The viewer has the ability to divide the service over time. He can now decide himself when it’s time to get a cup of coffee instead of having to wait for the commercial break. That’s a great benefit.

The last pattern we will discuss here is Attribute Dependency. In this pattern, a dependency between two variables is created or removed. Consider the location where you needed to be in order […]

By |February 10th, 2015|2015, Blog|0 Comments

Three innovation principles

Imagine you run a successful business with happy paying customers. Would you just sit back and relax? No! You would be looking at ways to sustain that success, and to become even more successful. You would be innovating all the time, right?

I believe most companies know they need to innovate and many of them realize they should not wait until sales slump and business becomes less successful. However, it happens that companies respond too late to changing customer behavior or find themselves surprised by new competitors shaking up their industries.

If you want to run a successful business on the longer term, you need to fix the roof when the sun is shining.

Companies know they need to innovate and they know they need to do it now. The problem many companies face is how to do this thing called innovation. Each company and every industry is different and has its own specific characteristics. However, here are three principles that are universally helpful.

  1. Create fertile ground


Many companies have a business unit “Innovation”, but successful innovation needs more than just a department bearing this name. To be structurally successful in innovation, the entire organization must embrace it. Innovation must run through the company’s veins. It is of fundamental importance to develop fertile ground so that innovation can take root in the organization. Innovation needs to be part of a company’s strategy, embraced by its management and supported by its internal processes.

  1. Innovate systematically


Popular well-known products came about by some stroke of luck. Pure serendipity. But organizations can’t just rely on luck as their source of innovation. The future of a company must not depend on it. What we need is a systematic approach for innovation that continuously keeps pouring new innovative ideas into the innovation pipeline.

  1. Build an innovation pipeline


Just as companies need a sales pipeline, they need an innovation pipeline. The systematic innovation process of the company generates new ideas that vary in potential opportunity and may require different implementation capabilities. All these ideas are fed in an innovation pipeline where […]

By |February 10th, 2015|2015, Blog|0 Comments