The 70:20:10 innovation model has been around for many years — the idea that you invest (effort, budget, however you see fit to split it up) across a majority of “business as usual”, a proportion of “incremental innovation” and a small shade of “disruptive/left-field” work which is higher risk.
It’s a model which has helped many encourage broader and innovative thinking — to commit at least 30% to doing something different, however it wasn’t without its challenges.
Innovation being broken out like this — as a separate line item — meant it could easily be not done. It being the last slide in the presentation, or the last line on the plan, the little brother to the bigger activity, and would naturally be the first thing to drop off a plan when budgets were cut or nerves were high.
We’re in a different time now — where the expectations of consumers and pace of disruption means many brands have switched to an innovation-by-default mode, where innovation comes first, and then you figure out scale, rather than a novelty at the end, or more mature design where the entire plan is innovative, and you can’t simply remove an element, as they are intertwined. I hear the phrase 70:20:10 being used less and less, and innovation becoming more of a mindset, less of a brief — which is great.
But I think there’s mileage in the model yet — not as a way to respond to briefs, but as a way for being open to new proactive thinking.
An excellent post on Medium by Ben Swindell prompted me to think about this over the weekend. The benefit of slow creative combined with fast action. I wrote about Slow Creative some years back — that ideas don’t always appear between 9–5 when you have to answer to a client brief. Some of the best ideas were not in response to a demand, but rather appeared as the result of unprompted thought over time — a slow growing collection of mental fluff in the belly-button of the mind. Until one day — pop! An idea! What if we ….? Could we maybe …? We should …!
Yet, what to do with this idea? Where to take it? The proactive pitch to clients who aren’t looking for something is incredibly hard — the moons have to align, the client needs to be in a receptive mood, budget has to be available (and when does that ever happen?).
So the idea sits in the bottom drawer, or worse — it goes to the client and dies the slow death of “maybe”.
Here’s where 70:20:10 could come back to life again. Rather than business as usual / incremental / disruptive, the model is about where commitment to innovation is placed.
70% of the annual budget is committed to projects you’re aware of and have a good handle on how much it normally costs — the usual stuff. You’re already behaving ‘innovation-first’, so this is where ideas already sit, that’s great. Bravo!
20% more of the budget is committed to supporting the new — the cost of challenging yourself and taking risks. It funds the stuff you hadn’t been able to plan for in the 70%. No more “we haven’t got budget to try that”, you’ve protected money to explore and do different. It forces you to innovation in your core work, but have the funds to stretch yourself — and it means 90% of your work is innovative, not 20%.
10% is saved. In a piggy bank. For System 2 ideas.
For slow creative.
For ideas which don’t have a home.
For ideas which deserve budget and investing in.
It’s a fund for the stuff you want to do but hadn’t thought of.
It’s the ability to move quickly on an amazing idea which you didn’t see coming.
It’s the ability to lean into people who have spent time thinking about your brand outside of the normal windows.
There are rules attached to the fund, of course. You have to still demonstrate value, you have to have a plan, you have to be doing something for the benefit of the organisation — and be on strategy or purpose.
But having a fund available for anyone to pitch for — creates two positive outcomes:
You do stuff which is brilliant — not just ‘on time’.
You encourage people to spend time thinking about your challenges beyond the brief.
It requires some up-front work — you have to have a set of criteria of what constitutes a good idea, of being clear on your ambitions to which the ideas would accelerate you, of figuring out what is acceptable ROI for the pot, and over what period of time, but creating a space where your agency and partners are actively thinking about how to help your brand — whether there is a brief or not, and a method of acting upon it, will only set you up for creating a stronger innovation mindset in your organisation.
Head of Strategic Innovation, Carat UK
Matthew has worked in marketing since 1995, moving through roles as a technologist, creative, agency founder, consultant, and strategist, joining Carat in 2012, where he leads the Strategy and Innovation team. Outside of work, he runs a number of global collaboration projects centred around storytelling, is a passionate coffee-drinker, loves discovering new magazines and learning from his two young children.