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Arrowing In On Innovation

By Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove

Among the organizations with the freshest takes on innovation is the London-based Bow & Arrow (  It positions itself as a “growth consultancy” and its founders are Ben Slater and Natasha Chetiyawardana.  Slater was working in New York – where he ran the office for the advertising agency, BBH – when he came to the career-changing realization that the brands which were succeeding were doing so through innovation, by understanding customers needs and building the products and services to fulfill them, rather than finding a way to position old products through new types of communication.  “They were winning new customers and driving growth by creating a constant stream of innovation and getting it to market quickly and effectively,” says Slater.

He was then introduced to the designer Chetiyawardana.  She had graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins in 2002 and was named Designer of the Year at New Designers (out of over 4000 designers from around the UK).  She went on to establish a lighting collective, exhibit her work throughout the world and then went to New York to work for a series of the top names in the innovation firmament.  After a handful of meetings, Slater persuaded her that he had seen the future and their combination of skills could make it happen.

Bow and Arrow was named after what Ben Slater insists was the most transformative innovation of all time. Forget the wheel, the bow and arrow changed the world when it became common usage after the last Ice Age.  “The bow and arrow was the first weapon to be created,” says Slater with the zeal of an arching convert. “It transformed countries, territories and democracy so it’s the most significant invention ever. It also stands for speed and pinpoint accuracy, which is a key part of who we are and what we do.”

Bow & Arrow’s business exists to help organizations to innovate their way to growth.  “What we’re very proud of is we can define what we do in a very succinct way. Innovation is the identification of new growth opportunities and fulfillment of them with new products, new services and new propositions, with the right business model that drives a new revenue stream,” says Slater.

He moves on to offer an animated and passionate take on the reality of innovation: “Innovation is a complete and utter basket case in business. There is no other discipline in the business world that has a higher failure rate than innovation. Over 90 percent of innovation fails. It is incredibly hard. There are multiple pain points where innovation can fail and the opportunity that we saw was to develop a process that overcame all of those pain points, to deliver what we describe as fail-proof innovation.”

It has taken years for Bow & Arrow to develop and refine its take on innovation. Ben Slater identifies six innovation pitfalls and how to overcome them.

  1. No sponsorship: “When I say sponsorship I mean the CEO of the company saying, ‘this is my project; my career is dependent on the success of this project; this is my time, resource, energy invested into this project and I’m going to get the company behind it’. If you don’t have high-level sponsorship, you’ll fail.”
  2. Under investment: “Innovation is really expensive. It’s really expensive to develop a strategy, a proposition, a plan with the team – and it’s even more expensive to implement it with high levels of capital and operational expenditure. If it doesn’t have the level of investment required then it won’t succeed. Before the project starts there must be a business case that demonstrates the potential opportunity so that when asking the CFO in an organization for investment he has a sense of what return he’ll get. It’s interesting because most people leave that to the end of the project when they have a firm proposition and firm idea. We start the project by isolating the size of the growth opportunity and continue to iterate the commercial model through to launch.”
  3. No alignment: “Often innovation can be done by the marketing team or the R&D team in a vacuum and a proposition, service or product is created and then technically ‘sold in’ to the rest of the organization – sold in is a nice way of putting it. You could argue it’s sometimes enforced or put upon the rest of the organization. The way to avoid that is to ensure that all of the key stakeholders are involved in the co-creation of the project. We have a process which we call ‘Blueprinting’ that identifies all of the key stakeholders who will have an interest in the successful outcome of the project or could be a barrier to the successful outcome and brings them in right at the start.”
  4. Unfeasible products: “People often come up with ideas which can’t be made or can’t make money. In that situation the way to alleviate the potential pain is to start the process by auditing all of the technology and factories within a business to understand what is possible and use that as an input into the process. We do a lot of co-creation in factories with factory workers and it’s very powerful. Again it’s something a lot of people don’t do, they usually wait until they’ve got an idea and then take it back into the organization and say, can we do this? The answer’s often ‘no’.”
  5. Poor execution: “You have to have design-led thinking at the core of the process. You must understand that whatever we create is going to be executed in a way that stands out, cuts through, makes an emotional difference to the consumer who will end up buying it. Our designers are deeply immersed in the strategic part of our process to ensure the recommendation can be executed in a differentiated, disruptive way.”
  6. No process: “We’re constantly surprised that there isn’t an innovation process. Leaders — a CMO, CFO, CEO or CSO — will say, look, we need to create a new product or service. They’ll get in a room, start brainstorming ideas and they haven’t gone through the rigor and the detail of working out exactly what the opportunity area is, who is the exact audience, how big the audience is, what the problem is we can solve for them etc. So we have a really detailed six-step process that we use in all of our projects.”


This was originally published in What we mean when we talk about innovation by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove (Infinite Ideas, 2016).

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