Screw the lines! Break away from paint-by-numbers innovation, and embrace design thinking


Cecilia Sylvan Martin

Senior Director, London

Categories Blog Innovation

When innovating, are processes actually fostering a culture of genuine creativity, or just offering the lines to colour within? 

It seems as though every company is striving to be seen as an innovation leader. But, are boundaries genuinely being pushed? or just playing it safe? 

Latent attitudes, tick boxes and and a ‘safety first mindset can have a limiting impact. Failing to nurture the critical ‘creative flair’ and ‘happy accidents’ that spark the magic of truly breakthrough ideas. 

The world and consumer behaviours are evolving rapidly, yet most FMCG companies’ innovation processes haven’t adapted to this pace of change. While some have dabbled with ‘boot camps’, ‘sprints’, and ‘lean start-up methods’, overall the core innovation steps have largely remained similar to what we’ve always done…for years. 

Even as we ‘Sprint’… we often find ourselves testing formulaically written concept boards (that consumers will never see!) and crafting extensive business cases to size demand spaces.  

And whilst we may intend to ‘launch and learn’ ….we often end up in a ‘hit and hope’ scenario instead. 

How can we trade the comfort of the familiar and well-trodden for a more flexible and imaginative approach? One that nurtures unexpected ‘aha’ moments and the wonder of serendipity, but also allows us to identify ideas with real potential accurately? 

At TBP, we strongly feel that design thinking holds the answer… 


Here’s our 6-step plan for success 

Nurture Empathy: 

Kick-start your innovation journey by delving deep into the needs and challenges of users. Impactful innovation goes beyond just great ideas; they must enhance people’s lives, offer a new perspective or way of interaction with the world, products or brands. 

Truly getting to know your users is the key unlock ‘aha’ moments that will push actual boundaries. And using research to inspire, guide and learn is much more important than testing and evaluating overthought ideas! 


Promote Diverse Thinking:

Foster a culture where all ideas, no matter how unconventional, hold value – this applies to the process as well as its outputs! 

Great innovation should feel a little uncomfortable. Daring to venture off the traditional path often ignites the most exciting solutions…  

The rule is simple: It’s far easier to rein in ‘wild’ ideas in than make a ‘safe’ idea exciting. 

Prototype, prototype, prototype (right from the start):

Bring abstract ideas to life, even in the early-stages.  

Creating ‘minimum viable products (even if imperfect) helps us explore how innovation could better fit into consumers’ lives, framed around real needs and problems… as well as giving people something tangible to build on. 


Test, learn and iterate continually:

Embrace the cyclical nature of design thinking. Actively seek user feedback and stay receptive to it.  

Continuously evolving, refining and pivoting ideas prevents stagnation and builds stronger outputs. Don’t settle too soon! 

Recognise the value of failure and embrace uncertainty:

Don’t be afraid of the unknown or the unpredictable. The magic mostly happens outside of our comfort zone.  

Failure is an opportunity not a hurdle. In fact, it’s vital to success. Regardless of whether an idea struggles or succeeds, it informs the next steps and pivots 


Trust your gut: 

Create spaces and opportunities for unplanned interactions and ‘happy accidents’. Disruptive innovation is as much an art as it is a science.  

Data and market analysis have their places, but we must trust our instincts rather than spending to much finessing the business case in the earlier stages (as ideas are likely to change & pivot further down the line anyway).  

It’s much more important to genuinely excite the few, rather than appease the many.

If you want to start colouring outside of the lines, escaping the ‘paint-by-numbers’ approach, do get in touch. We love nothing more than talking about how design thinking delivers meaningful, user-centric innovation!