Inventing Purple Cows. Guest blog from Richard Muscat.

A guest blog from Richard Muscat, a designer and Head of User Experience at Red Gate Software. He studied creativity and innovation in entrepreneurship at the Edward de Bono Institute in Malta and seems to spend most of his time moving cats off his armchair.

My upcoming workshop at Business of Software boldly claims that it will teach you how to “Invent Purple Cows”.

As I was preparing the content and format I thought it might be a good idea to share some more info about what exactly is going to happen and set the correct expectations.

So here goes.

Why Purple Cows?
For those who don’t know, the term ‘Purple Cow’ was invented a few years back by Seth Godin. Unlike your regular, boring old black and white or brown cows, a purple cow would really stand out in a meadow and you would likely be compelled to remark upon it. Thus, a purple cow is shorthand for a “remarkable idea”; something you can’t help telling people about.

Why do we want our products to be purple cows?
Well, if your cow stands out, more people talk about it and your idea or product spreads.

Can I really invent them?
Yes. If you’re a successful software company you’ve already done so at least once. The flagship product that is your cash cow (forgive the pun) and that everyone talks about is your purple cow.

So what’s the problem?
The problem is that most companies will do this only once: in their early start-up days.

As entrepreneurs, designers, developers, product managers and Agile cultists we’re taught to go out there, meet customers, discover their pain and make their world better. It’s a method that works in many kinds of organisations: start-ups, small companies and Googles. And 99% of the time its the way to go.

But there’s a 1% of the time where paying customers and end-users can’t tell you what they want because they don’t yet know they need it. For many companies, this “1% of the time” happens only once in their lifetime: the initial start-up phase. Some crazy entrepreneur convinces some crazy co-founder that what the world wants is X and they set about building it. If it works, they then spend the next 99% of their company’s existence iterating on that by talking to users. Sometimes the iterations are small (new features), sometimes a bit larger (new products) and sometimes bigger leaps (adjacent markets). But rarely does that spark in the initial 1% see the light of day again.

There are good reasons for this. If you have a market of paying customers, why risk it all? If you’re growing you need to optimize for efficiency and maneuver for market positioning and ubiquitous advertising presence. Being ‘crazy’ again is too risky.

But sometimes not being a bit crazy is the biggest risk.

So how does the workshop address this?
In this workshop we’ll be talking about minimising this risk in two ways:

  1. by aiming for building measurable certainty in your risky ideas, and
  2. by deliberately ‘designing’ your craziness
For the first bit – building certainty – we’ll be looking at a few different cutting edge innovation techniques that will get your creative juices going. For the second bit – designing craziness – we’ll be looking at how to join up these, and other, techniques together in a process that fits your organisational culture.

Looking forward to seeing you in Boston!