• Konrad Fernandez

Disruption and Innovation - Ideas that worked!

Updated: Jul 2, 2018

If you were to combine creativity, culture, and value creation, what would you have? A Culturematic.

That’s what Grant McCracken, anthropologist, author, and research affiliate at MIT, shares in his book Culturematic (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012).

A Culturematic, he says, is an idea which is a “probe into the possible”. And to qualify as a true Culturematic, it must do three things – A) Test the world by asking interesting “what if” questions. B) Produce culture; which means it must change or impact the way things are done and how people behave. C) Unleash value. 

Reality TV was born when two people asked the question – what would happen if we put 7 amateurs into a house and filmed them? The result was the first ever reality TV show, launched in 1991, called “The Real World”.

There are dozens of powerful Culturematics that McCracken discusses. Here are a few I think that really stand out.

Starbucks - The Third Space

Starbucks wanted to create a “third space” between work and home; where people would relax in public without being seen as “loitering”. They knew people behaved in a particular way at home, and in another way at work. But it seemed there was something missing. How do people have a space for themselves between home and work? Starbucks wanted to create that space where people could relax in public, have some private time, and do whatever they felt like. Starbucks indeed re-fashioned the rules of public life. They created a culture. 

Ford Fiesta Movement

In 2010, Ford gave 100 cars to 100 drivers and said they could keep the cars for 6 months if they would complete a mission each month. Some delivered meals on wheels, others went on adventure trips. What was expected of them? They had to document what they did on YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter. Many would think this was just a gimmick. But it was radically different from the usual marketing advertisements. It got noticed, and it helped create powerful brand recall. 

Gatorade's Replay Campaign

A high-school football match took place several years ago between two small-town rival teams in America; a place where football matters. The game was a tie; the most disappointing outcome sports fans could imagine. Gatorade asked a simple but powerful question – what if we had these teams play again now ….15 years later? These “boys” now in their thirties would have a second chance, and the fans in town would have the treat of a lifetime. 10,000 tickets were sold in 90 minutes. Why? Not because it still mattered so much. But because it was just incredibly interesting! What did it have to do with Gatorade? Well, their message in the midst of all this was – “It doesn’t matter how old you are - 8 to 80, you are always an athlete!”

Betting on Jack Sparrow

Culturematics focus on the particular rather than the general. When Captain Jack Sparrow was created, the character was not just any regular pirate. Casting the sophisticated actor Johnny Depp was no accident either. Tearing away from the sophistication of the actor, they created a very particular pirate with bad teeth, braided hair, an effeminate walk, and poor personal hygiene! When Disney productions was shown the character, they were terrified of losing their $150 million investment. But the filmmakers took their chance with this bold idea, and the trilogy made Disney over $2 billion.  

Culturematics challenge us to free ourselves from traditional mindsets, cultural stereotypes, and the tested methods of idea generation and problem-solving. 

This book is a tremendous amalgamation of hard research and solid insight. Bold in its approach, and written with an endearing sense of open curiosity, it points the way ahead for those who dare to leave the safe harbor, and head off into open waters. 


© 2018 by Konrad Fernandez.