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Kearon recommends another approach. If you want to innovate as Google, Apple, and Red Bull have, he says, you should follow a couple of rules:
1. Don’t look for big ideas. Seek small ideas that can grow.
2. Fail fast. Fail often. Keep learning and never give up.
Three Steps to Culturematics
So what’s the way to create a Culturematic? Try these three easy steps:
Test the World. Think of a way to provoke the world. Ask questions like: What if I invented a professional sports league? What if I put seven people in a house in Brooklyn and turned on the cameras?
Good what-ifs are easy to spot. They make us tilt our heads and go “hmm.” They speak to us because they go against the grain of expectation. They flirt with paradox. They provoke our curiosity. That moment when we tilt our heads—that’s the moment we can climb out of culture and into innovation. We are on the verge of making something new.
And no, we can’t quite say what. That’s what it is to be on the verge of the new. We are not really sure. This may be a false positive, a bum lead. We have to launch lots of Culturematics to find the few that work. It is impossible to say ahead of time. (If we could tell ahead of time, then we would not be on the verge of the new.) The only thing we can do is keep at it. Play out the what-if and see where it goes.
Discover Culture. The successful Culturematics will phone home. They will play out. They will discover meaning. They will produce culture. When Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, went searching for herself in Italy, India, and Indonesia, she found something that appealed to millions of women, a way of seeing themselves. When Morgan Spurlock ate all his meals at McDonald’s for a month, he helped millions of people rethink fast food. None of these people were working alone. They were taking advantage of deeper cultural changes. But each Culturematic these people invented was so apt, so endearing, so engaging, they pushed these cultural changes, giving perhaps as much as they got.
Elizabeth Gilbert turned her Culturematic into a memoir that sold four million copies. The subsequent movie, starring Julia Roberts, took in more than $200 million worldwide. Morgan Spurlock’s Culturematic became a documentary called Super Size Me. The film generated nearly $30 million on an investment of $65,000.
Unleash Value. Many Culturematics return nothing. This is not to say they fail. They tell us that this is a tree up which we no longer wish to bark. They satisfy our curiosity. And they tell us that the thing that captivated our curiosity doesn’t actually captivate anyone else’s. We have private enthusiasms. But if we want to hit a gusher, we have to look elsewhere. To find the innovation that returns significant value, we will have to try many things that return next to nothing. It’s the nature of the hunt.
Culturematics let us test the world, discover meaning, and unleash value. And this makes them an excellent way to innovate in a turbulent, inscrutable, confusing world. Think of them as the little ingenuity machines that make the planet a more interesting and fulfilling place.