Why future business growth is found at The Edge
How do you define the future of your business? Inspire growth? Disrupt a category? Outsmart your competition? Have impact? Not from behind a two-way mirror, that is certain.
Conventional user research has a tendency to work with a homogenous sample of people to deduce mainstream consensus. Similarities over differences. Validation over inspiration. But since when does more of the same lead to breakthrough innovations? The result: me-too strategies. Instead, we need to go to The Edge and bring together people from different backgrounds, with divergent points of view and varied experiences, to stretch our thinking and inspire ideas we previously hadn’t thought of. That is where growth strategies are born. That is where the future lies.
When I tell people about what I do – work with a global talent platform of creative outliers, critical thinkers and early adopters to inspire the future of some of the world’s most inspiring and forward-thinking brands – they look at me with a sense of fascination and bemusement. Let me explain.
Have you ever pondered over what happens at the edges of the Amazon rainforest and the Savannah? Probably not (and neither have I until recently!). It turns out that this is where most new life forms are created; unique species that can’t be found elsewhere and where you find the greatest levels of diversity. Ecologists call this the Edge Effect, and it helps explain the changes that occur when two or more ecosystems collide. Now, why am I lecturing you in ecology? Because it perfectly illustrates the potential of what is possible when people, from different backgrounds with divergent perspectives and diverse cultural and professional touch points, come together. This collision of worlds is extraordinarily powerful.
It’s time to say goodbye to focus groups to inspire the future
Growth strategies aren’t born from sitting behind a two-way mirror. If we want to inspire breakthrough ideas, we need to look for the differences in people, not the similarities.
The Edge Effect is not just an ecological phenomenon. Drawing from the fields of economics, psychology and the social sciences, research suggests that creativity, innovation and productivity increase when people from different cultures come together, work together, collide. In addition, research from Tufts University has found that when you introduce diversity into a group, people in the group begin to broaden the scope of their thinking.  Just as an aside, by diversity we mean deep-level diversity such as personality, values and experiences rather than just ticking off your demographic variables.
“People who are more alike are likely to think more alike. One of the things that gives a kick to productivity is that you get people with different views and different perspectives coming together.” Richard Freeman, Prof. of Economics at Harvard University
According to the Harvard Business Review “diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth.”  The theory sounds promising. However, some of you might argue that this isn’t new news to them; that the notion of diversity being the key to generating new ideas is widely acknowledged today.
I wonder, why then do so many companies continue to rely on traditional research methods to define the future of their businesses? Focus groups, for example, are too homogenous to facilitate divergent thinking; they are assembled based on a recruitment matrix that encourages similarities, not differences. Don’t get me wrong. There certainly is a place for market research, but it will only get you so far. The outcome of such methods is validation, not inspiration. In other words, what are customers thinking about my product or experience today? But sitting behind a two-way mirror won’t inspire breakthrough ideas. Growth strategies are built elsewhere… and the future is found outside of the mainstream (see diagram!).
Why? Because mainstream consumer culture lives in the present, not the future. New ideas are rarely found in the mainstream. “Disruptive innovations have the power to redefine the marketplace,” say researchers at Deutsche Telekom Laboratories, “mostly encroaching on the low-end of the existing market.”  In other words, outside of the mainstream.
According to experts in the field of personality dimensions who have studied people’s ‘openness to experience’ – or the active pursuit of expanding your mind – creatives are “dreamers with keen imaginations, seeing possibilities that others miss. They are adventurous, bored by familiar sights, and stifled by routine. They have an insatiable curiosity […], they are unorthodox, free-thinking, and prone to flout convention.”  Just imagine the possibilities of working with a group like this.
Collaborate with people from worlds unlike your own
Work with polycreatives and polymaths. Collaborate with people from diverse cultural, creative and professional backgrounds who are unlike yourself. Expand your mind. Receive fresh perspectives. Inspire new ideas.
At Sense Worldwide, we collaborate with people with more intense and unusual experiences, attitudes and backgrounds to unlock insights that transform the work of marketing and innovation teams – even if your audience sits in the mainstream. Our global platform, The Sense Network, brings together people from different worlds – artists, scientists, ultra marathon runners, poet lawyers, extreme consumers. Collaboration with your future consumers helps stretch and challenge our thinking and to see your category with fresh eyes. Unified by an insatiable curiosity about the world and the drive to constantly stretch your own thinking we pull on different experiences and perspectives. It’s this collision of worlds that allows us to build out broader thinking, disrupt categories and define the future.
How 25 progressive Sensers helped reframe what sexy means in the 21st century
What do you think happens when a Mormon-born bellydancer, a female erotic filmmaker, a journalist specialising in sexual experiences and a psychology researcher specialising in body image come together to share their views on what ‘sexy’ means today? They redefine it. We worked with 25 Sensers from around the world to get under the skin of sexy to transform the positioning of a global cereal brand.
How 50 members of The Sense Network re-energised a forgotten category
The Sense Network collaborated every step of the way in breathing new life into a stale category and building out a five-year product innovation roadmap for Almond Breeze. They helped us discover global insights and define market opportunities; and then played a part in developing the concepts and iteratively designing the winning propositions, ready for launch.
How a group of leading-edge Sensers helped Nike to identify and set the innovation benchmark across the glob
We worked with a select group from The Sense Network to decode and benchmark best in class innovation experiences around the world to inspire Nike’s direct-to-consumer design strategy and define the future of Niketown.
When worlds collide, transformative ideas take shape
New ideas don’t fall like raindrops from the sky. But we can find them by listening to people who can imagine a future before the mainstream can – people who are shaping tomorrow’s cultural conversations, creative outliers who challenge the status quo, fringe behaviours that allow us to identify what we can do next. The Sense Network is a space to connect and collaborate with these incredible people, to build out broader thinking and inspire breakthrough ideas that matter. Working with them will allow you to channel new thinking into your business and assist you in driving future growth in a fast-paced, competitive landscape.
Join one of our global Supper Clubs and meet The Sense Network for an evening of conversation, collaboration and curios. Register to attend here.
Also published on Medium.