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Editor’s noteThis week we will be posting a series of book reviews prepared by Pam Banks. These reviews are also available to watch on Roger’s TV In Business Program. See link below.

Exploiting Chaos by Jeremy Gutsche

By Pam Banks

Exploiting Chaos focuses on 150 ways to spark innovation during times of change. This book explores how remarkable companies have risen from chaos and provides a toolkit to foster a culture of innovation.

The greatest changes in history occurred during the Renaissance period from the 14th to 17th century.  This remarkable period emerged after the eruption of the Black Death – the deadliest pandemic in history.  Nearly half of the European population died, causing a state of chaos.  This chaos caused social structures to collapse, forcing a period of remarkable adaption.

To thrive companies must learn not to create structure and stability, but rather to adapt quickly.

Fixed expectations are the enemies of adaptation, and the following experiment with monkeys illustrates why. Monkeys were placed in a cage with a ladder that led to a bunch of bananas.  The catch was that the ladder was connected to a powerful water hose.  When the first monkey raced up the ladder for the bananas the entire cage was drenched with water.  Another curious monkey made the greedy grasp for the bananas and triggered the shower.  At this point the monkeys connected the bananas with water.  Each time one of the original monkeys was swapped out of the cage the newcomer would immediately race for the fruit – but the group would beat him down before he could make it to the ladder.  Later the fire hose was removed, but it didn’t matter they had their lesson hardwired.

Non- traditional thinkers offer the maverick ideas and the personality required to adapt – so hire freaks. Don’t be afraid to irritate people – chaos requires organization to make bold changes and people tend to become complacent.

Cross pollinate your ideas.  The problems you are solving have likely been tackled in parallel industries.

Goldcorp was a little mining company that wanted to grow.  No matter where they looked for gold their properties seemed to lack potential.  The CEO published the company’s highly secretive geological data and offered more than half a million dollars in prize money to any person in the world who could identify a strategy for finding gold.  Goldcorp received 100 new strategies.  The new methodologies led Goldcorp to unearth 8 million ounces of gold catapulting the $100 million dollar company to a $20 billion dollar valuation.

It’s important to reset your expectations and open your mind to explore seemingly random innovation. There are unique ideas all around us.  The difficult part is making sense of it all.   Innovation starts with the customer, so obsess about your customer.  Who are they…what do they need?

By 2007 GM was struggling with gas guzzling SUVs like the Escalade.  They realized that they had pushed the company away from females and eco-conscious buyers.  To better understand this demographic, the designers literally put themselves in the shoes of their female customers.  Male engineers were required to dress in drag and then get into and out of raised trucks and SUVs to understand what it’s like for women wearing dresses.  This helped them design cars like the Chevy Volt.

If you want to spark inspiration you need to hunt ideas that seem cool – but what exactly is cool? Trend hunting or clustering ideas that are important to your customers can help focus your innovation.  The book does a  great job in using photos to help group ideas and identify cool concepts.

We are in a period of economic crisis where global markets have lost a decade of value.  Collapse of any kind ripples through the economy, but it also gives birth to new opportunity.  Einstein words about three rules of work still ring true:

–          Out of clutter, find simplicity

–          From discord, find harmony

–          In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity

So look at chaos as a new opportunity for relentless innovation.

Pam is Commercialization Director for RIC Centre. She is a regular book reviewer on the business program  In Business on Rogers TV. Watch Pam’s review  of Exploiting Chaos.

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