Interview with Managing Partner, Ryan Lynch of Beardwood&Co
We meet Managing Partner, Ryan Lynch of Beardwood&Co to get his take on the innovation viewpoint from New York.
How do you define innovation, and what do you do differently?
Innovation at its most simplistic definition is about the desire and means to make the world a better place. There are many ways to pursue this goal, but the two most successful ones are: 1) the addition of pleasure, and, 2) the subtraction of pain (for lack of a better term).
Simply stated, shorter-term innovation is usually equated to an increase in enjoyment, even the smallest doses combined add up to a better life – or 1+1=3 [Short-term innovation is a tangible pleasure I know I wanted or could have imagined]. Short-term is adding more enjoyment on top of more – like an over-the-top cupcake. Think of the body wash with moisturizing ribbons, scrubbing beads, soft-touch bottle and a jasmine aloe fragrance. You get the picture.
Longer-term innovation is about connecting disconnected elements that I didn’t know I needed simplified – reducing my pain. Eliminating choices, time spent or my level of cognitive dissonance is a game of subtraction in pursuit of a better world. Soul Cycle is an innovation of addition, combining the joy of group fitness cycling with emotional focus and yoga and insider celebrity status. Peloton looks longer-term and envisions a world with all of the benefits of Soul Cycle, but in the pleasure of our own home – greatly reducing decisions, steps to completion, time, inconvenience and ultimately cognitive dissonance.
We believe in building and vetting fully-baked innovation propositions to truly gauge where and how we can increase pleasure or reduce pain. We go beyond a concept statement or insight to create fully realized product and brand propositions that look, sound, act and feel real. If we are pursuing an increase in pleasure or a reduction in pain, it’s the totality, balance and interaction of the elements that need to be considered. We make ideas real to find the human connection that ultimately drives desire.
Why did you start Beardwood&Co., and what is your vision and mission?
Beardwood&Co. was born out of the dissatisfaction of working at large agencies and the limitations of the traditional model.
We are a strategically-led branding and innovation firm that specializes in helping organizations make a human connection with consumers. We were founded in 2004 by Julia Beardwood to help clients understand their end users better and form nimble teams to act on that insight. By getting the right strategic and creative people involved at the right time, we can leverage the power of an emotional connection as a constant thread.
Principles of our approach include:
- Collaboration – makes us happier and faster. Together we are able to solve challenges better. You are experts in your category and we are experts in our field.
- It’s about the journey – as well as the destination. A great result is awesome, but not at the price of a painful experience. We should all be learning and ensure that the process is as fruitful and positive as the outcome.
- Are you uncomfortable? Are you excited? Our job is to push your thinking and ensure that you are not only excited about the work, but also a little out of your comfort zone. One without the other makes for boring work and/or unhappy clients. We believe this statement so strongly; we’ve had it mounted above our critique wall to ensure we keep it front and center in evaluating work.
In 2013, Beardwood&Co. was recognized as an EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women business. The program is a national competition and executive leadership program that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale.
From your experiences, are clients focusing on breakthrough/higher risk innovation and category leaps vs. incremental innovation?
Generally, the larger the client organization, the less likely they are to focus on category leaps because of the inherent risk. While larger clients want breakthrough change, that desire is muted by a focus on risk mitigation and shareholder value. Additionally, incremental innovation is becoming expected and demanded by retailers and consumers.
As a result, it’s happening faster and is expected on a more frequent basis, which is demanding innovation across the spectrum of product experience – touch, taste, smell, sound and scent are all being tapped to deliver. Innovation used to be focused on competitive advantage or dominance, now it’s about innovating to keep up with the demand for new, even if it is the smallest addition of pleasure.
The pace of change is accelerating so quickly that competitors today are not the same as they will be tomorrow.
All small companies are the potential new Netflix or Uber. It’s why we see larger organizations buying up smaller niche competitors and why tradeshows like ExpoWest (focused on the naturals market) draw all of the big CPG companies to hunt for ideas or their next acquisition.
Even with their focus on risk mitigation and incremental innovation to feed the demand for newness, most larger organizations are also starting to place bets on higher risk category leaps. It’s obvious that companies like Samsung and Apple are selling endless upgrades and product improvements with eyes on a bigger picture of a connected ecosystem. Samsung 837, their lifestyle store in NYC, paints the picture of a very current future where devices interact to simplify your life – ultimately reducing your cognitive dissonance and choices you have to make. More and more requests are coming in from category leading clients to help them take the big risks and make the big breakthroughs – risks be damned.
What is your view on the talent landscape in New York? More specifically, what do you see as the emerging talent trends within the innovation consulting industry?
There is a growing appreciation for the diversity of opportunities and the diversity of the ecosystem that only New York City can provide. There is a physical relocation of talent to New York City as entrepreneurs and innovators recognize that the tech industry is limiting as a single vertical and investment and incubators are springing up in NYC.
There does seem to be a concerted effort by larger companies to try and bring this expertise in-house. Both design and innovation functions are being brought inside, making the types of assignments and projects more demanding and expected at a quicker pace. If your client has had your job at the agency, they expect more and they expect it faster, which is exciting to be a part of. Ten years ago, people wanting advice on the industry only talked about agencies.
Today, they’re likely to ask about working client side. However, this is a perpetual pendulum. Expect to see a swing back to the agency, if we haven’t already.