84 Use Laddering to Innovate

YES! AND… Creative Gorilla # 84

Sometimes, we can focus so much on one threat, we don’t notice another slipping in from a different angle – laddering can help…

“If you look at life one way, there is always cause for alarm.” Elizabeth Bowen

Use laddering to innovate

Venetian masks

Are you looking the right way at competition?

Last week, I helped run the meeting of the youngest group in our local Scout Troop, the Beavers. This event was very noisy, sometimes challenging and always fun.

We played a popular game called “Rattlesnake” in which the children run the length of the hall as the two leaders throw soft foam balls at their legs. If the ball hits their legs, the child is out of the game.

It’s easiest to catch them when they are running as they leap in the air, stop and dodge to avoid the balls. It’s great!

We were down to the last four children in the game and as I waited to throw, one of them stopped mid run. I threw the first ball and he dodged it. Next, I pretended to throw the ball at him and he kept leaping in the air. We went on like this for thirty seconds until the other leader walked up behind him and hit his legs with the ball!  He was so focussed on me that he had forgotten the threat from the other leader.


It struck me that this is a great analogy for companies.  It’s easy in a market to focus on the “established” competition, unaware that someone else can creep up on the outside and “hit your legs”.

I think a good example is Apple’s iTunes which has “smacked the legs” of the Compact Disc market or indeed their iPod, which has put a major dent in the sales of other formats. This is a good result for a company that had no experience in either industry.

 One way you might spot a threat earlier is to move up a level (“chunk up” as some say) and consider the “concept” of your industry. In the iTunes case, music companies appear to have focussed on a method of music distribution rather than on music distribution itself.

 Apple appears to have questioned the concept further and asked, “Why are people distributing music on CDs?” which might lead to the answer (concept) “To listen to music.” If you chunk down from this concept and ask “How to,” it can lead you to both the hard disk player and downloads. This technique is often called “laddering” when used for idea generation. In this case I’d like to call it “Strategic Laddering” when used to conceptualise our business.


Think about the business you are in. What is the concept? Have you ever considered how others might take advantage of this concept in a different way to you?

To Close

The “Beaver” that won the game had a long pony tail and I shouted to the others, “OK everyone; give her a big round of applause!”

After the applause, the Beaver came up to me and piped “I’m a boy! You told them to applaud “her”!”  I had a red face after that, made my apology and concluded the concept was “embarrassment”!

Have a conceptual week.

John Brooker I Facilitate, Innovate, Transform.

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