Combo: a $500MM Concoction

Contrary to popular belief, the quality of an idea isn’t correlated with the complexity of the technique used to generate it.

Keeping an eye on how the field of innovation and creativity is evolving, I have noticed that more and more complex techniques are being proposed and used in an effort to induce more radical ideas. Unfortunately, there is no correlation.

Simplicity is beautiful. What’s even more beautiful, is using a tool that enables you to focus on the outcome you’re seeking (ideas) as opposed to the design and setup of the idea generation method. Today, we see elaborate set ups, workshops, sprints and idea generation sessions held with an intricate focus on the tool rather than the outcome.

Those design sprints and workshops are great, don’t get me wrong. They very well yield results. However, they don’t necessarily do a better job when compared to simpler tools and techniques.

So why do we hear and use more of these complex methods?
In my opinion, it’s because teams are caught up in innovation rather than innovating. They are caught up in the excitement of how an elaborate setup makes them feel. And they are caught up in innovation theater: holding sessions for the sake of taking pictures and posting them all over social media.

Aside from addressing this toxic approach (maybe I’ll focus on it in a separate post), I’d rather focus on simpler techniques that have been used in the past, deliberately or not. Those techniques are simple to use and bring about high quality solutions.

One of those simple techniques is ‘SCAMPER’. It is an acronym that stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate and Reverse. The technique is pretty much self-explanatory from the acronym itself, hence the beauty of its simplicity.

Let’s focus on Combine for now, and let’s start with a story.

Back in 1975, George Howell opened a cafe in Harvard Square called The Coffee Connection. It wasn’t until 1992 that The Coffee Connection started experimenting and blending espresso, ice, milk and sugar. In that very year, they trademarked the name ‘Frappuccino’ for that blend. Later on in 1994, The Coffee Connection chain expanded to 23 locations and, in the same year, was acquired (along with the rights to The Frappuccino) by Starbucks for $23 million. Starbucks later on tweaked around with the combinations and recipe, but maintained the name Frappuccino. And, as they say, the rest is history. Today, The Frappuccino is a $500 million product with variations without coffee, bottled versions and limited edition drinks. Rest assured that The Frappuccino is an innovation that generates revenue for Starbucks (and all other coffee chains that copied it) especially during the summer.

Now let’s stop here to make a very important observation: The Frappuccino solves a problem. Coffee sales in the summer used to slump drastically. Thanks to The Frappuccino, and other iced drinks, coffee lovers have a drink to look forward to especially in hot summery days.

The Frappuccino started as an experiment where a barista decided to combine different ingredients in a new way that hadn’t been done before.


Let’s think about this for a second. Here’s a wildly successful innovation that has drastically changed the coffee industry, and it was initiated by….combining ingredients? So you’re telling me there wasn’t an elaborate design sprint? No meetings? No app-based, bell-ringing, car honking, epic idea generating technique that was used? Whoa.

Yup. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Listen, the point is this: don’t get so caught up with the technique. Focus on the outcome that you’re after. And, above all else, make sure that you are solving a problem.

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