When it comes to ideas, businesses can easily come up with plenty of their own. They just may need help to crystallise their thoughts into something actionable. Agencies focused on ideas and innovation, though, are often questioned as to what they do exactly (us included!). This is where having a specialist’s lens, and understanding what it means to have them, will come into play.
Agencies tend to throw about jargon like “front-end or insight-led innovators, design thinkers, ideation and co-creation". But perhaps it’s much simpler than that. The question of what we do is perhaps explained by the analogy of “connecting the dots” for businesses to help create new ideas. Or helping businesses to “see with new eyes” and reveal what they might not be seeing in the outside world. to then help collect those dots that we subsequently connect.
This is a skill that not just anyone can provide. Business models and budgets stand in the way for many agencies and consultancies. If you integrate a specialist lens into more holistic thinking to create and develop insights and ideas, you see immense value quickly. For us, a specialist lens is integral to our core. It's a potent weapon in our armoury and a source of competitive advantage for our clients.
In photography, a specialist lens is a piece of equipment that’s used to produce a specific creative effect. It might not be that helpful during everyday use, but it can be deployed when you need to capture a particular subject in a particular way. In a business setting, it’s the ability of individuals to apply their expertise and perspective to help us look at challenges from a unique angle.
With the benefit of these unique perspectives, it’s possible to make the leap from a good result to a great one. By applying a specific skillset, knowledgebase, or viewpoint, we can bring brilliant, unadulterated ideas to life.
What counts as a specialist lens is subjective. You’ll need to look for different qualities depending on the outcome that you’re trying to achieve. In some cases, it might be that a business needs someone to help them see the bigger picture, or equally it could be the finest details – sometimes hidden. In others, a company may need a completely outside-in perspective on their industry but using their expertise to apply to complex problem-solving or enabling strategic leaps.
The key is to start with the end point in mind and work backwards. When you have a clear vision, it’s easier to select the right people to make it happen. They rarely conform to stereotypes, and their non-linear thinking can cross barriers that would be impenetrable to somebody with a more conventional outlook.
The challenge is in knowing how, when, and where to deploy a specialist’s knowledge. Experts are often expensive, not to mention hard to find. It isn’t always possible to apply their exclusive approach to an entire project and using them generically could dilute the benefits that they bring.
To get the most from any specialist consultant or creative, it’s necessary to define their focus. You might ask a music maestro to consult on the ambience of a restaurant but widening their scope to the details of the menu could detract from their primary purpose. Put more simply, you need to apply or request expertise in the right way at the right time to yield the best results.
It’s all too easy to make the mistake of limiting the scope of an expert to their own discipline, sometimes they can inject even more value by offering their insights on a project by using a wider context. There are lessons to be learned from Leonardo da Vinci, who according to author Daniel Smith saw “no intellectual separation between his work as an artist and as a scientist.” It’s perhaps why the Mona Lisa is anatomically correct, and why there’s a distinct artistic quality to his Vitruvian Man.
In essence, the answer is to be creatively systematic and systematically creative. By defining a problem and tasking experts with finding a way to overcome it, it’s possible to get the best of both right and left-brain thinking. This is particularly true when you apply left brain thinking to seemingly right brain challenges and vice versa! Some of the greatest ideas are found at the intersection between art and science, after all.
When properly incorporated into a project, outside views are hugely valuable. Not only do they provide a fresh perspective, but they can also polish existing concepts and make them sparkle.
There are plenty of real-world examples that demonstrate the power of distinct lenses. You can bring a concept to life and identify what’s missing by visualising a problem or proposed solution through art and film. It’s equally possible to give form to thoughts and to develop ideas by introducing the right specialists’ lens(es) and perspectives to your project.
Another way to get inspiration for your next step could be tracking back through a competitor’s patent. An example is found in TRIZ – a methodology for systematic problem-solving. It’s through this logical style of attack that the Soviets were able to replicate, and even surpass, NASA’s successes during the Cold War. It was also the driving force behind Samsung’s filing of 50 new patents for a single project in 2004.
Companies can get an edge by asking themselves how other industries and worlds would tackle a problem. Sometimes solutions are staring at us and we merely need to allow a different perspective to see them for what they are. It’s this approach that saw Henry Ford take inspiration from a slaughterhouse when creating his production line. That same creation went on to inspire Maurice and Richard McDonald who were creating their own efficient assembly line under the golden arches.
In summation, almost any project could benefit from an alternative viewpoint. The trick is to use them wisely and effectively. Specialists’ lenses should not be brought in for the sake of it, and it’s only when you can clearly define what you want to achieve that progress can be made.
It’s easy to be blindsided by the word ‘specialist’ when important questions still need to be asked. What do you want to achieve? How can this person’s expertise help? What’s the best way to utilise their expertise to your specific goal? The answers to those questions will make it easier to work back from your ideal endpoint and will help you to narrow your focus towards a better outcome.
Also remember, don’t just position someone as a specialist, make damn sure that they actually are one. Being provocative here, but don’t underestimate the power of a so-called naïve perspective either.
The agility and experience of I Wish make it possible for us to find and procure the views of the world’s best experts. We’ve been fortunate to bump into some beautiful minds on our travels, build synergistic relationships, and genuinely exciting collaborations. With careful consideration and an open mind, you can access them too.