You’ve felt them.
Those bumps in the road.
Those unexpected twists and turns.
Those soul-crushing moments when it feels like everything you’ve been working towards is about to come to a shuddering halt.
Getting new products to market is hard.
Luckily my dog Sam, who is a narcissist, was around during my last Innovation crisis. “Don’t worry”, he said, as my colour-coded project plan turned to dust. “Be more like me! And give me that biscuit.”
I ate the biscuit myself (it was a Custard Cream.) But Sam got me wondering.
What could I learn from my dog about getting new products to market? Turns out, quite a bit.
1. Dream Big
My dog has one audacious dream. One day, he is going to catch a real live squirrel. Every time I open the back door, he shoots out and chases that squirrel with everything he has - even if it’s only a twig that looks like a squirrel.
Sam’s dream gets him out of the house in the morning, come rain or shine. What’s putting a spring in your step?
Dreaming big is the start of many a great project, but it doesn’t come easy to everyone. D’you find yourself worn down by process and precedent? Try asking yourself the classic ‘what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’ Or the Clean Language-inspired ‘what would you like to have happen?’ to cultivate a broader view of your vision. It could unlock something exciting.
(Not sure where to start? Check out Underdog’s Bark Up The Right Tree – a toolkit of techniques to build and refine winning brand strategies.)
2. Break the Rules
One day, I left an entire stick of butter on the kitchen worktop. My dog knew in his soul that his life would be better if he ate that butter, and no amount of begging would make his dream come true. He knew it wasn’t allowed.
As soon as he had opportunity, Sam jumped up and grabbed that butter. He ate the whole thing, wrapper included.
We can debate whether eating a whole stick of butter was actually a great idea - but breaking the rules was the right way to make it happen. Whether you’re smashing the rules of your category, or working with internal stakeholders to create an ‘atypical’ path to launch, sometimes great ideas demand a little rule-breaking to make it through the red tape.
3. Embrace Plan B
Not everything will work out as you expect. After my dog ate the butter, he threw it back up all over the carpet. Not to be deterred, he proceeded to re-eat the butter, along with the carpet.
Sam wasn’t planning to eat the carpet, but he embraced that Plan B like a trooper. You never know when Plan A to deliver your idea is going to hit a dead end, but if it was worth embarking on Plan A in the first place, then it’s worth pausing to work out a new route to get your baby back on the road.
Don’t let your product live or die by the quality of your Plan A. Embrace change. Celebrate your Plan Bs and Cs. Call it ‘iterative development’ and say it was the plan all along.
(Got a great idea and starting to work out how to make it real? Check out Underdog’s Doggy Style – a portfolio of activation capabilities across all creative touch-points – from pack design to video).
4. Keep your eyes on the prize
My dog is extremely easily distracted, except when it comes to food. Try to eat your breakfast, and Sam will keep his eyes on your toast like he’s an SAS sniper preparing to take down an enemy fighter in the middle of an interpretive dance routine.
If we’re embracing change, what can we learn from this level of focus? Could holding things too tightly get in the way of a truly iterative approach?
The trick is knowing what to hold tightly and what to hold lightly. It’s natural for ideas to change and evolve along the journey – but always stay true to your strategic intent. Know your ‘why’, and don’t look away. If you allow your idea to stray too far from the thing you are trying to achieve, chances are it won’t deliver.
5. Never underestimate passion
My dog has a genuine and irrepressible passion for humans. Every time he meets a human, whether he knows them or not, he gets so excited that he pees a bit. Indoors, outdoors, he is just so happy to see people that he pees on them.
Alright – is it really a good idea to learn from Sam on this one? Does passion really make a difference to project outcomes, or is it just a nice to have?
The truth is that the quality of your idea isn’t enough to see it through to market. I’ve seen many a great concept die in lukewarm hands. Passion is the great lubricator that keeps your idea moving forward.
Besides, Innovation is fun. Launching something is super-cool. You are birthing an actual thing into people’s lives. This is worthy of a great deal of metaphorical excitement-peeing.
(Still on the hunt for that great idea to get passionate about? Let’s chat about Off The Leash – Underdog’s ideation and iterative development workstreams for innovation that really delivers.)
6. Take every opportunity to learn
On paper, my dog should be some sort of genius. His dog-parents have both won gundog championships. I had such high expectations, but wow, Sam is slow. He still hasn’t figured out fetch, and he’s literally a retriever. His education has been long, and is ongoing.
I was ready to sign my dog up for Crufts before I even got him home. You too might believe you’re at the start of great things. Your idea is rooted in audience insight, it delivers benefits, it’s differentiated, true to brand, you’ve got a right to play, and no-one is more passionate about it than you!
No matter how great you expect your idea to be, no matter how solid it looks in theory, it is always worth taking every opportunity to learn. In the past, I’ve been guilty of conducting research while secretly thinking I knew what consumers were going to tell me. I’m ashamed to admit this, because that same research typically delivered a handful of game-changing insights that we’d never have got to as a project team. Build a delivery plan that invites consumer input, allows for course correction, and welcomes iteration.
(Inspired to get a little closer to your current, lapsed, or potential consumers? Give us a bell to discuss Sniffer Dog – Underdog’s suite of research and insight capabilities.)
7. Stay Curious
Like all dogs, Sam is very interested in sniffing other dogs’ unmentionables. He just has an insatiable thirst to know what’s going on with every bum of every dog.
I know - you’ve got a to-do list that’s so heavy it has generated its own gravitational pull. Staplers, post-its, and an assortment of office stationery are already in orbit around it. You’re just trying to get things done. But there’s magic when you step away from your desk and look around.
See what’s happening in-store, at your local market, in competitors’ mailing lists. Look in your category and beyond. Look out for anything NEW, and spend a minute wondering what’s behind it. Let everything be worthy of a metaphorical sniff. You might well find yourself invigorated and inspired.
(Inspiration Walkies and Data Digs, two tools within the Sniffer Dog research and insight suite, can help spot what’s new and driving excitement in your category. Get in touch to find out more.)
8. Keep the faith
My dog has spent most of his life chasing his tail without success. Nevertheless, every day he has run round and round in enthusiastic circles with the same utter self-belief that it is possible.
Like tail-catching, Innovation is innately difficult. Many systems are built to protect and maintain the status quo. Belief in yourself, your team, and your product will see you through the darker days when it feels the stars just aren’t aligned, and you can’t see how you’ll ever make it happen.
If Sam hadn’t believed it was possible, he’d have given up long ago. As the motivational posters say, ‘whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.’ Sam has never stopped believing he’ll catch his tail. And then, one glorious day last week - he did.
Wherever you are in the journey, whatever your challenge, we’d love to explore how we could support you getting new ideas to market. Contact Underdog, the mongrel agency, on email@example.com.
Sparky and playful innovator WLTM brave and curious brands for fun times solving problems, unlocking opportunities, and enjoying the process of delivering great work. Experienced in research, insight, ideation, concept development, brand strategy & positioning, and bad but enthusiastic karaoke (specialising in mid-90s hip hop). Email me