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3 Reasons why You will Fall in Love with the 4 Lenses of Innovation


Are you reading this article in search for inspiration, for new ideas? You came to the right place!

The good news is that literally anyone can have an idea.
The not-so-good news is that coming up with an idea that really works or creates new value is actually quite difficult. Generating great ideas is even harder. And producing a truly breakthrough idea is harder still.

I know because it’s my job. I help companies innovate around their strategy and their business model. My clients always expect me to come up with something great that will revolutionize their business and create excellent returns. Every time! That’s what I’m paid for.

But now let’s talk about you.
No matter what your job is, you need to come up with good ideas too.
Let’s say that you are writing your resume? You need good ideas! Or you are writing a proposal for a customer? You need good ideas! You are creating a new claim? You need good ideas!
In every aspect of your life, a good idea can be a life-saver, even in your personal sphere with your partner, with your children, with your friends.

Thankfully today we have some proven methodologies for thinking creatively about your company’s business? Many of the organizations I work with have tried methods like Blue Ocean Strategy, The 10 Types of Innovation, the Business Model Canvas, the Value Proposition Canvas, and the Lean Startup Canvas.
But these frameworks, however useful, still require a lot of good ideas if you are going to make a real impact on your business results.

... you will need to come up with lots of good ideas. But where are you going to find them?

Take Blue Ocean Strategy, for example.
It is a great method, I love it, and it works wonderfully. “The first principle of Blue Ocean Strategy” according to W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in their book Blue Ocean Strategy, “is to reconstruct market boundaries to break from the competition and create Blue Oceans”.
What exactly is a Blue Ocean?
Well, it’s the opposite of a Red Ocean. And a Red Ocean is red from the blood of too many competitors trying to eat each other by going after the same customer’s business.
A Blue Ocean, by contrast, is an uncontested market space. It’s where you open up a whole new opportunity arena that isn’t already filled with competitors.
In other words, it’s about going where your rivals are not.

How do you do that? Blue Ocean Strategy tells you to follow a six path framework, to challenge “six assumptions on which companies hypnotically build their strategies”.

So you have to:

  • Look across alternative industries
  • Look across strategic groups within industries
  • Look across the chain of buyers
  • Look across complementary product and service offerings
  • Look across functional or emotional appeal (this is one of my favourites)
  • Look across time

Going through this six path framework you will need to come up with lots of good ideas. But where are you going to find them?

Blue Ocean Strategy book cover

The method that you choose, whether it’s Blue Ocean Strategy or any of the others, gives you the steps, but the creativity part is up to you. It is you who will have to fill in the dots.

Where do great ideas come from?

I had the same problem. How could I help my customers find new and good ideas?
I have tried many creativity methods. Most did work, some didn’t.
Many of the ones that worked were really hard to learn, master and then teach. I was still in search for a good solution.
Then, one day, an Italian publisher asked me if I wanted to help revise the Italian edition of a book: “The 4 Lenses of Innovation” by Rowan Gibson. The publisher handed me the English edition and I started reading it. And I found what I was looking for!

A method that works, is easy to learn and that can be taught to anyone: The 4 lenses of innovation™.
I fell in love with this methodology, and so will you – for these three reasons:

1. It really works!

Rowan Gibson, the inventor of the 4 Lenses of innovation™, has been using the Lenses with his clients for more than 20 years.
And have a look at a list of some of his customers: Accenture, Apple, Bayer, BASF, British Telecom, Coca-Cola, Credit Suisse, Dow Chemicals, General Electric, Generali Group, Heinz, HP, IBM, KLM, Mars, Microsoft, Nestle, Philips, P&G, Roche, Siemens, Telefonica, Unilever, and Volkswagen.
What a customer list!

You might think: “Well, maybe he is a genius and the 4 Lenses won’t work for me”.
What I did, to know if the lenses worked, was to try for myself. I chose a problem I wanted to solve: I wanted to improve the way people subscribe to my courses.
The objective was to have more attendees subscribe early on and have better conversions. The common way to achieve this is to have 2 fares: a lower one for early birds and a higher one for late subscriptions.

Cover of the book The 4 Lenses of Innovation

So, working with the 4 lenses, I came up with many ideas and I chose this one: the subscription fee increases every day. I could easily and inexpensively implement it and it works.
If you subscribe to my Business Model Workshop in Milan, today you will pay € 376, tomorrow you will pay € 380, next week € 400 and the day before the event you will pay € 650.

So the 4 lenses did work for me, and now I use them with all my customers and they are very happy. But the 4 Lenses have also worked spectacularly for all the people who attend Rowan Gibson’s workshops around the globe.
Look at Rowan Gibson’s website to find some testimonials:

2. You can learn it very easily

Let me tell you the experiences I had with other creativity techniques. I mainly faced 2 situations or problems.
First, the technique was very complicated. I had problems remembering all the steps and I had to literally draw them to memorize the big picture and be sure not to miss some steps. This also made the overall ideation process long and hard to explain.
The second situation was the exact opposite: the method was so vague that it was hard to understand whether I was doing it right or wrong, if I was taking too much time or not enough. I also had the impression that the ideas were going into the wild and not focusing on specific objectives.

Instead, the 4 Lenses of Innovation™ method is based on 4 very clear pillars. They represent 4 specific ways to look at your problem to come up with new ideas. Those are:

Challenging Orthodoxies
Try to look at what is usually taken for granted in your problem domain, then challenge it – blow it up! – and see what happens
Harnessing Trends
Look around you at what is happening in the world and try to use the emerging trends to revolutionize the future of your business or your life
Leveraging Resources
Take a fresh look at the resources you have (either your own skills and assets or those your organization) and think about how you could use them in new ways to create innovation opportunities
Understanding Needs
Try to understand the difficulties and frustrations that people face every day and then see if you can solve them like nobody has before

First advantage: everybody can remember the 4 lenses. It’s easy to keep them live and vivid in your mind, ready for use at any time for any challenge you might face.

Second advantage: they will work for you straight out of the box. You can start using them immediately if you want to, and you will find that they work every time.

Of course you won’t suddenly become a Leonardo da Vinci in creativity, but you are going certainly going to be better than you were before (that’s because they will teach you to think like Leonardo da Vinci, or Steve Jobs, or any of the other great innovation heroes).
And the more you learn about the 4 lenses and practice them, the more you will improve your creativity and ideation skills.
It’s like soccer: all you need is a ball and a pair of feet. Even the shoes are optional. You can start playing soccer right now. You might not be Pelè or Maradona, but you will get better at it if you practice and improve your game.

Third advantage: I have found that the 4 Lenses will improve the way you use any of the other innovation or business growth methods I mentioned earlier, like Blue Ocean Strategy etc. You can apply the Lenses each time that method requires creativity.

3. You can teach it to anyone

Why is this important?
Having a method that you can teach to anyone is important inside an organization because you will want to tap into the brainpower of as many people as possible. More minds at work on the problem, means more solutions you will be able to choose from.
Moreover, you cannot be an expert in everything. When I am helping a client, although I’m an expert on innovation I might not know much about his own market, his industry, his customers. So by engaging as many of my client’s people as people (who do know about these things), we can find new ideas together. And, most importantly, these ideas will be highly relevant and appropriate for my client’s specific situation because the 4 Lenses allow you to focus on solving very particular challenges. There are also a couple of added bonuses: together we are going to find good ideas faster, and buy-in will require a lot less effort because the relevant people have been involved in generating the new ideas in the first place.

Ugo Mendes Donelli teaching

And now what should I do?

Now you know that there is a method out there that can help you come up with good ideas when you need them, that works, and that is easy to learn and to teach: the 4 Lenses of Innovation™.

Start thinking about the kind of ideas you need, both big and small. And then start looking at the problems you would like to solve through the 4 lenses. You will see that your creativity will immediately start to improve. It’s like using a power tool for the mind. Then learn more about the 4 Lenses of Innovation™: buy the book, attend a seminar and start practising creativity in all aspects of your life: work, family, sport, hobbies … and enjoy your improved life!

You will find information about Rowan Gibson’s seminars here

Ugo Mendes Donelli

Portrait of Ugo Mendes Donelli

Helps companies innovate their business strategies to gain competitive advantage and sustainable returns.
He teaches Business Model Innovation at Masters for CUOA Foundation and holds public Workshops on Business Model Innovation, Business Innovation by Design and The 10 Types of Innovation around Italy.


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