10th February, 2020

Is Necessity Really the Mother of Invention?

I’d say so! There’s nothing like a bit of a setback to get the creative juices flowing. I’ll explain later how a major setback for our team led to the successful launch of a radically new range of biscuits (ironically known as ‘Traditional’).

Cognitive dissonance

There is a term in behavioural science called cognitive dissonance. I promise not to go into boring detail but it is the behaviour that supports the theory of necessity being the mother of invention.  In my experience it is a hugely important concept and one that is worth harnessing. According to the scholars…

“The term ‘cognitive dissonance’ is used to describe the feelings of discomfort that result when your beliefs run counter to your behaviours and/or new information …”

In simple terms when things aren’t the way you believe they should be it can make you frustrated or angry enough to creatively and energetically do something about it to restore balance.

Everyone has been there. Sometimes it can be as simple as the office getting increasingly untidy until it reaches an unacceptable point and there has to be a massive Spring clean. Other times it can be much more fundamental, a gentle dip in sales over a number of months suddenly turns into a financial loss and no-one is accepting passive excuses about ‘the weather’ anymore. You work hard with your sales team to turn it around. You’ll come up with new ideas, new systems, all borne out of necessity.

It is this behaviour that can make properly developed plans or budgets that a team buy into so powerful. The plans can be ambitious but as long as they have buy-in from everyone in the team they will find the creativity and energy to make them happen. It may not be exactly the way it was originally planned; it may not be exactly the same result and it may take a little longer than anticipated but a well-developed plan or budget that inspires a team and has their buy-in is an incredibly powerful tool. It can take time, patience and humility as well as a degree of skill and experience to get it right, but the rewards are well worth the investment.

I’ll use the example I referred to above to demonstrate this dramatically.

Back in the early 90’s I worked in a Business Development role for a large biscuit company who were the major supplier to a household name on the High Street. I cannot say who they were but if I was to say that what we produced were, “Not just biscuits, they were ?&? biscuits” you may have an idea.

We worked closely with our customer to develop a range of premium biscuits with textures, flavours and delicious inclusions that simply weren’t to be found anywhere else on the High Street. They were (and are) truly delicious. A key element of the launch was to display this range in a format that showed them off to their full advantage and made the premium nature highly visible. Another key feature was that the range would be flexible allowing for seasonal varieties to be developed at low cost and minimal production or write-off costs of packaging. A fundamental element of the launch was the merchandising of the product. It was a range which was earmarked to deliver several hundred thousand pounds of net profit per annum to our company. Early pilot runs of the product showed that the merchandising requirement could not be delivered in-store, this in turn meant that the packaging concept would not work and sadly the project was to be dropped. The development effort of the last couple of years had unfortunately been wasted…or that’s what most people thought!

I can vividly remember the following day in the office and my inspirational boss saying, “We are all allowed to feel sorry for ourselves for the next two minutes… then we need to fix it!” We were all hugely motivated, talk about cognitive dissonance! The rug had well and truly been pulled from beneath us but we all absolutely believed in the quality of this ground-breaking range and we were determined to make it work. The creativity and energy we summoned meant that we developed a completely new packaging format. We came up with a massively imaginative plan to keep the flexible nature of the range with minimal development costs and the range was launched. It’s been a huge success for nearly thirty years, copied by just about every competitor and food retailer but not before we stole a march on the market.

We had the range and we had the bottom-line profit we had committed to, we just got there a slightly different way. Call it cognitive dissonance or necessity we were determined to deliver the key elements of the plan we had developed and signed into and we dragged victory from the jaws of defeat.

If you’d like to know more about how to achieve buy-in at such a level or even the details behind the range or the packaging then give me a call or drop me a line at gary@flourishcoaching.co.uk. Let’s have a coffee and talk about how you can unleash the creativity and energy in your business without you having to make every decision yourself.

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