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Innovation - Four Candles

What comes to mind when I say the words, ‘Four Candles’? If you are of a certain age you will remember the infamous ‘Four Candles’ sketch by the Two Ronnies. It is a sketch full of wordplay and homophones as a scruffy tank top wearing Ronnie Barker asks the shopkeeper for items on his shopping list. The customer wants 'Fork Handles', but the shop keeper gives him 'Four Candles'.

From Ronnie Corbett the shopkeeper, we move to another business owner. John sat there with his head in his hands. He didn’t understand. He had ‘pivoted’ his business like the social media had advised. He had switched all of his face to face business to online. He had paid Facebook to boost his posts. And yet, nothing. Not one enquiry. Now it might be due to his advertising approach but more likely that he has not considered what the customer actually wants and he too, like Ronnie Corbett is delivering the wrong thing.

Considering what the customer wants is key to any business or organisation. The same is a crucial part of innovation. If we are going to innovate, we need to know why we are innovating and who and what we are innovating for. The has innovation as

The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay. To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need.

There are two stages to innovating. Review and Design.


  • Purpose – Why you are doing it and what you are trying to achieve

  • Problem – What is best practice? What are your shortfalls? What are you trying to solve?

  • Pinpoint – What does your customer actually need?


  • Possibilities – What different things could solve the problem or meet the need?

  • Prioritise – Which of these ideas will best solve the problem.

You know your purpose, you know best practice but are you pinpointing your innovation on what the customer needs?

This week the government announced some thinking around gradual exit from lockdown due to Coronavirus. As part of that they said that masks should be worn by the public in confined public situations to reduce the risk of any undetected virus in you being passed on by you. Within 24 hours of this some companies were offering screen printed masks with company branding. Innovating to what the customer needs.

The tendency for innovation is to want to rush into the more exciting design stage, but without pinpointing what is needed and therefore why you are innovating stops it becoming wasted energy.

So, if you are wondering where to take your organisation at the moment, consider

  • What is our purpose?

  • What is the problem I am trying to solve?

  • Who is our customer?

  • What is their avatar?

  • What does our customer actually need?

School leaders this week are facing the challenge of the Prime Minster's directive to reopen schools for Reception, Year 1 & Year 6, maybe from 1st June. As they look to innovate, amongst huge logistical challenge, the same questions may be helpful.

How do you know what they need? Ask them. Speak to those you normally work with and ask

  • How can I help you at the moment?

  • What is it you need from me at this time?

Everyday Leader works with school leaders and we have innovated to meet what they need. They need coaching at this time – so we provide online coaching. They need training for their staff so we provide interactive online training. We work with business leaders and we have innovated to meet what they need. What they need is help gaining clarity, so we provide online coaching and blogs and ebooks on managing yourself at this time of change in business.

So, as you think about innovating, if customer wants fork handles – give him those.

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