Finding the purple cow: the wildcard to success


Blog article / Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

Seth Godin is one of my all time heros. The way he explains marketing, the success of value propositions, how to engage with customers and other topics, really keep me on the edge of my seat (metaphorically and literally).


He has written a book called: The Purple Cow, which basically speaks about the importance of being uniquely different from all the white and black cows surrounding you, so that people will stop on the middle of the highway, jump over the fence, take selfies with this cow and basically can’t believe what they’re witnessing.

Not only is this a great metaphor, it also makes me realize how little companies are daring to be the purple cow. Why take the risk? Why explore territories we haven’t seen before? Why creating uncertainty in an environment that is safe, stable and well… certain? That’s a very good question, but has an easy answer: because you’ll never stand out. You’ll never be loveable or unique. You’re a me-too, a commodity, an average product for average people.

You’ll never be loveable or unique. You’re a me-too, a commodity, an average product for average people.

The Wildcard: your ticket to transformational innovation

When I run design or innovation projects, I always try to stimulate and push for a ‘wildcard’ idea (very much in line with the ‘Purple Cow’ idea): it is an idea or concept we created that is so crazy, wild and maybe even impossible, that it makes people smile and talk about. It’s the idea that will be the longest remembered, laughed about, played with.

Visualized, this ‘wildcard’ idea often finds itself in the top-right corner of the Market/Service matrix outlined above: it is a transformational new service that serves a new-to-the-world market.

Other parts of the matrix speak for themselves: the Expansion zone holds new services for an existing market (‘broadening the portfolio’), the Safe zone converts existing services so that they fit a new target group and finally The 2.0 zone tries to create ‘2.0’ versions of existing services in existing markets – most of global ‘innovation’ finds itself in this quadrant, as it’s the least riskiest and most predictable (‘let’s improve our feature list in the fastest way we can’).

Using the wildcard in an innovation

After running a bootcamp or design sprint, most ideas are often centered around the Expansion zone, followed by the Safe zone. The Wildcard ideas take a third place.

To make the sponsor feel at ease and supportive, I push for exploration and prototyping of at 1 or 2 ‘expansion’ ideas – knowing that those are most likely to see the light of day one day – but strongly advise to focus on at least 1 Wildcard idea too. By forming a sub-team of 2 or 3 people, you can run these projects in parallel, having the ‘safe bet’ of your expansion ideas to fall back on, while definitely trying to develop a ‘purple cow’, that might hold the key to the future of the company.

I think we owe it to ourselves to stimulate and push clients to do so, if we really want to see a better and improved world, frankly.

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