Fifty Shades of Smart, asking the ‘Smart’ questions

Just this morning, coming into work on the tram, the lady next to me was reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.  Oh no not another person reading that book, it’s everywhere, everyone seems to be reading it. Fifty Shades of Grey has been recently topping bestseller book lists, and has won the honour of being the fastest selling adult novel of all time!  No matter what you think of the book (mummy porn, erotic fiction, Fifty Shades of Boring anyone?), there is something going on here that we can’t ignore, and we can actually learn from. Hats off to the author E.L.James for putting a spin on an old idea and coming up with a blockbuster.  Simply by asking the smart question. How do you rejuvenate the old romance novel for a new century?  Sex it up of course DOH!

Asking the right smart question can lead to the next smart idea.  So often we think innovation is coming up with a bright new idea, that no one else has thought of. That’s really hard to do, so instead imagine focusing on the next ‘smart idea’ (an idea that builds on existing ideas) that might be staring us right in the face.  Two questions to ask, to find that smart idea are:

1. What already exists that you can put a new spin on?
 “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” wrote Isaac Newton in a letter to Robert Hooke in 1676. Newton tells us in this quote how science, indeed civilization advances in small steps – incremental advances each building on what came before it.  You can apply this ‘Standing on the shoulder of giants’ philosophy to even something as mundane as reality TV!  For example just when we thought the whole talent quest format was done and dusted with ‘Australia’s got Talent’, ‘X factor’, ‘Australian Idol’ along came ‘The Voice’ creating viewing history.

2. What problem am I solving? 
The other question to ask to find that next smart idea is what is something that frustrates you?  What is annoying and might be annoying to lots of other people too?  For example how often have you thought ‘I wish I could jump the queue and order my coffee’ and along comes an app or several that let you do just that.

Now our challenge in business is finding the next smart ideas, the next  ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ in our day to day work using these two questions.  It might be staring straight at you…perhaps in that cup of coffee on your desk.



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  • Gabrielle Dolan

    A client of ours (thanks Arlette) just sent me through the male version of 50 Shades of Grey. Here it is.

  • Brad

    What an insightful way of looking at this. Makes you wonder as well. What would the male version of 50 shades of grey look like.

    • Yamini Naidu

      Brad you will have to write it, can’t wait! Gabrielle says the male versions would be ‘Black & white’, no shades of Grey! Sorry slightly sexist but couldn’t resist. Many thanks for your comment.

  • Reply

    Love the way you create a message out of a topical phenomenon. As a person who doesn’t necessarily describe herself as creative, thinking about building on others ideas and taking them that next step is very appealing. As usual, has provoked me to think differently about what I might do next in my business based on being even more observant about trends….thanks! Susan

    • Yamini Naidu

      Susan thank you for your lovely comment. We all grow standing on the shoulders of others and there is an old zen saying, ‘don’t crouch in people’s shadows or stand on their heads, but on their shoulders’ and who knows just by doing that, you might write the next 50 Shades of grey?!
      Best wishes

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