Can you tell us about Unmake?
Over the past 20 years, I have built the design agency Red Lemonade and seen the growing need for company innovation.
I started Unmake because now, more than ever, innovation is critical for survival. We align teams on problems, generate solutions and rapidly test to validate ideas.
For many companies, there can be an over-emphasis on R&D for innovation which is often slow. Some of the most innovative companies cleverly recombine existing ideas and concepts from other industries which is quicker.
We offer this faster pathway to innovation, be that process, product or business model. Innovation is future-proofing your business, and it has to be nurtured internally for better execution.
Delivered through structured workshops, we enable you to swiftly create and execute experimental prototypes or tests to validate and evolve innovation ideas.
Tell us a bit about you and your role in Unmake?
My role is to show teams practical ways they can explore innovation opportunities and act on them. It’s a process that allows them to innovate faster, more efficiently and beat disruption.
Innovation is seen by many as a nightmare of risk and uncertainty on where to start. So I work with teams to mitigate uncertainty by creating opportunities with more upside than possible downside, a designed process to reduce risk.
The best teams turn uncertainty into an advantage, a superpower to discover new ideas and previously unknown opportunities to innovate. What you don’t actually know is an advantage!
What is your interpretation of innovation?
People tend to overcomplicate innovation. An innovation is something that changes behaviour or solves a problem.
There are three types of innovation:
Process Innovation – Creates improvements and can reduce production costs rather than drive an increase in revenue.
Product Innovation – Creates new products or features, increasing customer demand, retention and profit.
Business Model Innovation – Redefines how a company creates, delivers and captures value. BMI is risky but transformative and can make and unmake entire markets.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Having run Tech Thursday over the years, people may associate me with startups and tech. It’s far from the truth; I primarily work with incumbent companies with big clunky, slow-moving parts and infinite complexity.
I love reducing complexity; it comes from being a designer at heart. The most rewarding work is solving big hairy enterprise problems.
I’ll also be hosting the opening day of the European UXDX 2021 (Global Community and Conference for Product, UX, Design & Dev). On the day, I’ll be speaking to product and design leaders from Spotify, Trusty, Reallife Tech, Zalando, Trustpilot, Pleo and many more!
Do you have any business insights on the South East?
I’m always fascinated by the potential of the region. It’s like a best-kept secret but probably not for long.
Recently I visited the Abbey Quarter in Kilkenny; there is a small section open by the river. It’s an exciting development, and you can really see the potential. It reminds me of the very funky and creative east side of Berlin.
Insight wise, I noticed that work is changing; obviously, we see a change in where people work, going to the office for a few days and working from home the other days.
What’s not so obvious is how we will work. First, there’s the deep work of getting the job done. Then there’s the collaboration side of creativity, utilising the team’s collective knowledge for innovating on processes, products and business models. The latter will change the architecture of the workspace around us.
A trend I noticed from meeting people at Tech Thursday a few years back was people moving to the region but working remotely in highly skilled jobs.
Imagine a future with many highly qualified people with lots of disposable income working for many different companies but living in the same region. Sounds like a great spread bet to me; it reduces risk by not having an over reliance on one or a handful of big employers, however, it does require a mindset shift to progress from a traditional way of thinking.
One good thing from the pandemic is that remote working will grow, and if we accommodate this correctly in the South East, which we are primed for (quality of life, cost of living etc) it will be a game-changer. This needs to be strategic, going narrow and deep rather than a blanket catch all approach.
Recommend a book or article you have recently read?
I very much like this short video of Nassim Taleb talking about ‘Trial with Small Error.’
It describes how capturing luck through diligent trial with small errors is the fundamental basis of human innovation rather than the collective knowledge of experts. It pretty much sums up how I see things.
What is your favourite tool for productivity?
It would have to be Notion. During the pandemic, we needed a customisable way to organise projects and communication. It’s very easy to use and fantastic value for money, seamlessly connecting and combining components to create your perfect system.
You can use it for knowledge management, note-taking, data management, project management and lots more. No coding is required, and it’s an excellent resource for businesses.
What is next for Unmake?
Much of our work is remote/online, so we’re not bound by geography, which brings many opportunities.
Our positioning is critical, and we are in the process of discovering our target market.
We are keeping away from business plans which are busywork, elaborate dreams based on assumptions.
Currently, we are creating prototypes and tests to help validate our target market assumptions. A process that pushes us to learn. What you do is more important than what you think.
So I guess we’re ‘eating our own dog food’ next!
John is also the Ireland South East Creative Sector contact.