Process… and Dog Ball Launchers

We have a cockapoo. She is very much the hybrid of these two breeds: the bounciness of the Cocker Spaniel; the intelligence (and non shedding coat) of a Poodle. For the record, she is called Bonnie. And Bonnie likes tennis balls. In fact, she likes tennis balls more than anything else; more than other dogs, more than dog treats, more than her doting owners. She is ball crazy.

Consequently, the importance of Dog Ball Launchers has taken a disproportionate importance in our house. Initially we threw her the ball. But a couple of long walks in I realised that she could keep on fetching far longer that I could keep on throwing. So I traded up to a short Launcher. Grippy and fairly taught, it could propel a ball just about further than I could throw with much greater ease and much less fatigue. But for Bonnie it wasn’t enough; she barked for more. So I went further. Something more engineered, more industrial. In fact, pre industrial, using Roman Trebuchet siege launchers principles, we traded up to navy blue, extra long super-duper Launcher, about a metre long.

Now, you’re probably wondering what the point of this is to business?

Well it’s this. It’s about addiction to tinkering processes: tinkering that doesn’t deliver. It’s something that impacts innovation and brand planning processes in particular. The desire to ‘improve’, to add on. To look for marginal gains in areas not critically important, not understood or that won’t make a difference. And none of which will help when the basic process isn’t being followed anyway.

Dog Ball Launcher_fotorTake the super-duper Dog Launcher. It has been a total disappointment. Sure, it’s extra long and whippy, but here’s the thing. In terms of results, it’s no better than our original model. The ball goes higher but falls maddeningly short. If you use the Launcher as an extension of your throwing arm, it’s so flexible that the tennis ball merely pops out a few metres away. You can’t use a bowling action for the same reason. The reality is that like a trebuchet, the long swing arm is designed to work on its own. But when you tack it onto to a moving part – your arm – the forces counteract one another. To prove the point, the only thing that worked is a flick of the wrist – but the ball goes no further than me throwing the damn thing.

This isn’t a call to revert to chaos. A good back-bone business process is needed to make things happen. In innovation you need a process that joins insight start points, with idea generation (ideally a longitudinal approach) with co-creation or testing with consumers, optimisation and piloting, before linking into the business’ activity executional process. But like our original dog ball launcher – the basic process is the same; all the tinkering, time investment and money spent on minor improvements will not return if you don’t have the basics in place.

So I’m afraid Bonnie is enjoying the joys of a hand thrown ball again. It might be worth you trying the same.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for categories and brands, including company and brand purposing. We are passionate innovators; to speak about dog ball launchers, or perhaps innovation more generally or call on +44 (0) 7885 408367.  

© The Crow Flies, 2014

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