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Shuck U…Pearls of Innovation Wisdom

Imagine the scene: a focus group room. A facilitator pitching the latest advertising concept. Megacorp advertising executives sit in a dark room behind one-way mirrors. Bowls of M&Ms and cans of Diet Coke all around. Sure to follow are insights on their latest brainstorms.

“Okay, here’s an idea,” says the facilitator. “A live online broadcast. We’ll have a camera watching a woman shuck oysters. She’ll talk while prying the shells open. Then she’ll announce the color of the pearls she finds. And she’ll measure them and show the audience how big they are. Or small. And the audience will be so engaged that there will be a constant buzz of comments and questions. What do ya think?”


Maybe the chirp of crickets in the distance.

Finally, one brave focus grouper speaks up. “Are you serious?”

Idea killed.

But should it have been?

Cut to Melissa Fargnoli. She’s on Facebook Live, chatting away while she shucks oysters. A constant stream of questions and comments flow in as she announces the color and size of each pearl she finds. And her business,, grows.

I don’t get it.

But I’m not supposed to. I’m not her target customer. Among her target, though, she may as well be Oprah.

This got me thinking, and it illustrates some great points about innovation.

1) Focus groups are a lousy way to test concepts.

I know, I know, the scenario above was made up. But it reflects the reality that talking around a table in some fluorescent-lit mall office late on a Wednesday night is so artificial.

I wonder how many of the concepts that I’ve watched die on the focus group room floor could have lived and thrived if we had shown people a real experience, rather than just describing a concept in words.

Melissa’s show is cheap to produce, and adjustments based on feedback can be made on the fly. Production quality isn’t exactly Breaking Bad, but who cares? The customer engagement and learning are there anyway.

Focus groups have their place in the world. Just don't let them be the final word in your customer research.

2) It’s the experience, not the product.

Yes, shucking oysters on Facebook Live builds awareness of her business, but Melissa is doing much more than just advertising.

She’s building a more complete experience for her clients. The product is not just the string of pearls mailed to the customer who placed the order. The product now includes the interactive excitement of co-creation. It includes the dopamine-rush of anticipation and discovery as the shells are opened. It includes the communal experience of sharing that co-creation experience with others watching the show. And it includes the customization of making a unique product for a unique individual.

It’s way more than just a thing. It’s a complete experience.

3) Shuck your inhibiting fears and try something.

Public speaking is as fear-inducing to most people as Stephen King’s creepy It clown. Putting yourself online, live and in-person, is a risky proposition.

Melissa’s show could have ended up with a total of three viewers: her mom, her best friend who thinks she's crazy but loves her anyway, and that neighbor down the street who owed her a favor.

Worse yet, it could have had boatloads of viewers who responded with scathing ridicule.

But she got out there and tried it anyway.

Fear of failure could have kept her on the internet sidelines. Her success came from getting past such fears.

Innovation involves risk. Risk cannot be avoided. While risk should be mitigated, and never approached ignorantly, don't let inordinate fear stop you from trying something new and different.

I won't lie...failure sucks. But the only true failures are failing to try and failing to learn.

Remember the old adage: success comes from good decisions. Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions. Be willing to make some bad decisions (no, not the kind where you should know better, like smoking, trusting a politician, or wearing black dress socks with sandals and Bermuda shorts), and learn from them to make better future decisions.

So take a lesson (or three) from Shuck University, and happy innovating!

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