Destruction helps to create something new

From a business card to a client project: at Creaholic everything revolves around rule-breaking, creative destruction, and new inventions. Creaholic Managing Partner Mars Aeschlimann explains what the philosophy is all about—and why it takes a certain amount of courage to innovate.

Mars, Creaholic business cards are perforated and scored; they have built-in breaking points and invite people to turn, bend, and fold. What’s the idea behind this?
Mars Aeschlimann: These business cards exemplify our philosophy of innovation. At Creaholic we’re convinced: anyone who stays on well-worn paths can’t innovate, at least not disruptively. With this business card, we wanted to show that you have to break with traditions and ignore rules in order to find something new.

How did you come up with this approach?
As a rule, business cards are simple and boring. Therefore, our business cards should be something else—and inspire clients with the joy of discovery, rethinking, and redesigning. Clients can use our business cards to get a glimpse of how we think and work at Creaholic. Our understanding of innovation should be communicated to them right from the beginning—creative destruction; finding new things. Of course, this mindset is how we approach our projects as well.

What does that mean, exactly?
The development of products and services usually follows a few well-worn paths and patterns—it’s based on familiar ideas and practices. However, this is a bad starting point for innovation. You have to be ready to try out truly new things and to break rules. An engineer can calculate how long it will take a stone to sink in water and come to rest at the bottom of the lake. This is the wrong approach. At Creaholic, we think about how to make the stones fly instead.

Can you give an example of this practice?
One of our Creaholicers was very upset that when you take a shower, huge amounts of heat energy simply go down the drain—it wasn’t possible to save that energy. Using our 100-hour rule, he was able to devote his time to focus on this problem, and as a result, a start-up company emerged: Joulia. This brought together know-how from different fields: shower construction and sanitary engineering. Two worlds were combined, the boundaries between them were completely broken down, and an entirely new technology was developed and patented. Until we got involved, the basic idea behind a shower hadn’t changed in hundreds of years, but we were able to challenge that status quo. As a result, Joulia didn’t just win us the Watt d’Or and many other prizes—though that was great. In addition Bertrand Piccard (President, Solar Impulse)—who is strongly committed to innovations in sustainability—gave a TV interview this year where he mentioned our technology as perhaps the most important of 330 sustainable technologies he has identified.

At what point is rule-breaking—or destruction—no longer helpful and just destructive?
Destruction is almost always a good starting point to finding something new. You can see that also in crises, which are always a good breeding ground for innovations, if only because an established structure is destroyed by outside forces and doesn’t function anymore. In these situations people are very willing to think laterally and come up with a completely new design for the reconstruction.

What should we watch out for in destruction?
The timing of the destruction is key. In order for an innovation to take off, good timing is essential. New products and services have to meet a market need. For this reason, at Creaholic we’ve continuously strengthened our team by adding people who contribute and develop precisely this client- and market-centred thinking. We have teams in the areas of Future Trends, Future Thinking and Market Validation. In the end, only about ten percent of all disruptive technologies have a market opportunity. In the last decade, many innovative technologies have arisen in the field of sustainability—Joulia is just one example of this. At the moment we’re also rethinking the concept of packaging; looking to turn it completely inside-out.

Can you go into more detail?
Sadly, no. But I’m absolutely convinced it will be an incredibly exciting and important technology.

Creaholic relies on rule-breaking—how does this affect your clients?
I think our clients our clients want approaches that are completely new, and sometimes a bit crazy. But at the same time, there is also a great respect for change. This is completely natural. Humankind has a need to discover new things—but at the same time, we also like safety and comfort. So in this way the client doesn’t always know what working with Creaholic will mean. And I have to be honest: working with us is a bit of a risk.

That’s a sobering thought…
Don’t forget: the biggest risk you can take with regards to innovation is not to innovate at all. There’s no way to avoid this risk entirely and uncover something new. In our team, we have an incredibly broad and creative base of knowledge in a wide variety of industries. As a result, Creaholic significantly increases the chances of success in the innovations process. But yes, there’s no hundred percent guarantee of success.

What factors make the difference between success and failure?
Success requires a creative, passionate team; a forward-thinking client; luck…and also failures along the way. You can learn a tremendous amount from continuous experimentation and failure. That’s why long-term collaboration with a client is often the most fruitful. They understand that innovation doesn’t happen overnight—there’s a long, iterative process behind it. If you want to survive in today’s economy, you need to change constantly. Those that are willing to reinvent themselves over and over again will have long-lasting success.

Do Creaholic clients also sometimes shy away from these changes?
The best decision-makers we work with are those that think far ahead. Even before they necessarily realise that today’s products and services are no longer successful, they’re already searching for new solutions and business models. They understand that this change is absolutely necessary. That’s why a good entrepreneur is also characterized by courage and a willingness to take risks. Unfortunately, these qualities are often lacking in the industry.

How do you fix that?
Well, KPIs, success metrics, and even compensation schemes are often geared towards limiting mistakes. Try rewarding the number of new innovations instead. That would foster courage and a willingness to take risks, which I think are two very important qualities for successful entrepreneurship.

The “Swiss innovation community” has a bit of a reputation for being very cautious and, therefore, sluggish—at least in comparison to other countries.
I would agree. At least nowadays. But if you look at the history of the Swiss industry, it was definitely characterized by courage and risks—and that’s why it was so successful. Building a railway line up the Jungfraujoch must have seemed absolutely nuts from the point of view at the time. But in fact, it was visionary, as you can see today. Every day, thousands of passengers ride the Jungfrau Railway up and down that mountain. Switzerland has to reclaim the courage of such pioneering deeds. I like to use the metaphor of the dog and the wolf.

What do you mean by that?
You can compare Switzerland to a dog—a dog has a full bowl of food every morning and evening; he can sleep indoors near the bed, or even on it. But he has to walk on a leash, he has to listen to his master and follow commands. On the other hand, the wolf is always outside when it’s cold and wet. He runs the risk of not catching anything. So he has to develop new strategies in order to be a successful hunter and survive—and share his prey with others. He hunts in packs and is a team player. I think Switzerland could use some more of these hungry wolves.

And what should these wolves do?.
For example, they should invent new technologies. When we think about innovation, most of the times we think about new products or services. I encourage every innovator to think broader - let us take it up another level and create new technologies and orchestrate new networks.

Thank you for the interview.
The pleasure was on my side.