According to Matt Jenks, there are three critical components to developing great strategy. Search for the problems people are ignoring, embrace failure, and seek out differing perspectives. Looking back at his time as a Senior Strategy Manager in Dyson’s global strategy team, he explains why the trio leads to innovative solutions time and time again (except when they don’t, and why that’s ok too).
When it comes to building innovative strategies for brands and new products, it’s essential to understand many factors such as consumer demand, customer needs and competition. But it’s also more than that; it is learning how to create something unique, inspiring and, ideally something that doesn’t yet exist.
During my time at Dyson in the UK, we lived and breathed by several mantras, which helped me hone in on the skill set of a great strategist. There were many perks that came with working for Sir James Dyson, British inventor and founder of Dyson but out of everything it was the space to explore and be creative that I cannot fault.
While we were always working on multiple product launches and innovative solutions for the future, it was freedom to come up with something without criticism that lead to these great products. I found this experience fascinating as it taught me to think on my feet, fresh and fast. It’s probably also credit to the way Dyson runs it operation – very much like a start-up. There is no copy paste approach, and I think that is a good way to look at strategy along with the top key mantras: embrace failure, solve the problems that people ignore, search for different perspectives.
Why embracing failure leads to success
When Dyson invented his first dual cyclone vacuum cleaner, he spent 15 years creating 5,126 versions that failed before he made one that worked. The payoff was a multi-billion dollar company known for its creativity and forward-thinking designs. It is this mantra of embracing failure that I think more organisations should incorporate into strategy. Without failure it is difficult to progress and create outside the box thinking. Failure allows us to see the problems that are not obvious to anyone else and ultimately create something bold and interesting.
Accepting you will fail is freeing for individuals and organisations alike. Not only can it lead to innovation, but it can also bring teams together through a shared vision to succeed and the passion to solve the problems that arise along the way. Like James Dyson said: “We have to embrace failure and almost get a kick out of it. Not in a perverse way, but in a problem-solving way. Life is a mountain of solvable problems, and we should enjoy that”.
The key to embracing this mantra is to remove any sort of criticism. It is often the comments that sound stupid that lead to the most significant innovations. Simplistically, it is a matter of having the right attitude and finding failure interesting.
Solving the problems that people ignore
Insights and data systems help us find and understand problems we often struggle to see with the human eye, and having access to the technology that allows us to discover these insights can lead to solving the problems people are ignoring. Take Dyson’s smart purifiers, they measure multiple types of air quality, humidity and temperature every second of every day across millions of homes around the world. Through data systems, we were better able to identify customer needs and optimise performance or add new features that further improve customers’ health and wellbeing in their homes.
When we get the time to look at data collected over a decent amount of time, we can make a more informed decision rather than depending on gut feelings and trends. Regardless of the growth strategy, data-driven insights allow us to identify problems and patterns that can help us decide on what direction we should take.
However, before delving deep into data and drowning, as a result, it’s essential to understand the key challenges that need to be addressed and then collect the data that will help you manage them. It is about what your business wants to achieve and how data can help you get there strategically.
As a strategist, our natural curiosity often leads to an answer that’s followed by two more questions and to best solve a problem you need no questions left unanswered. But this often takes time. Digital data platforms such as Tableau or Power BI can combine numerous data sources and bring them to life, helping to quickly unearth trends and stories within whilst fueling curiosity. I can’t give too much away about what’s to come from Dyson but it’s these digital platforms that are supporting a lot of their future technologies and innovation development, especially in the robotics space.
Embracing people and different perspectives
James Dyson is well known for embracing people from all backgrounds and experience levels. He has engineers who are very binary in the way they think, working with graduates who are unburdened by years of experience. The results of these relationships are teams who learn to count on each other’s strengths and weaknesses to build revolutionary solutions for the markets they are working in.
This mantra is not at all exclusive to Dyson, but it is one I’ve seen first-hand that’s critical to great strategy. Seeking out differing perspectives not only enhances creativity but also helps you discover problems you might not have come up against in your own way of thinking. It allows an infusion of fresh ideas and can improve productivity tenfold from the excitement of discovering something new.
While it may take a little longer to explore all sides of thought or behaviour before developing a strategy, the result is an aligned and cohesive, transformational plan.
In a knowledge-driven economy, with data and insights at our fingertips, it’s essential to always start simple to get to that big picture idea. It is about allowing your team and yourself to fail without criticism, taking the time to focus on the data that matters and joining your team on the journey to innovation through an acceptance of differing perspectives.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the most effective. These mantras not only created Dyson but drove them to innovate the iconic household products we know and love.
I’ve also experienced great personal and team successes working under these mantras and their simplicity makes them highly transferable to wherever or whatever I’m working on. In doing so this enables us strategists to challenge the status quo, find new growth opportunities for clients and unlock transformational customer strategies.
Matt is a former Senior Strategy manager based at at Dyson’s Innovation Campus in the UK.
This article was first published in the 2022 June/July issue of NZ Marketing magazine.