Last month, my brothers, father and I embarked on our annual Spear men adventure trip. This year we chose Santa Fe. We had a hunger for open space, stars, outdoors and more five star restaurants than any other city!
A few days in, we found ourselves with a few guides, waste deep in fast moving water. We were fly fishing and I took more than trout out of the Rio Grande that day. I saw an elegant correlation between product innovation and development and the art of casting for fish. I only wish it were as easy as Ernie makes it look here
A primary strategy for getting fish to bite in fly fishing is following the “hatch”. The hatch is literally when the larva of an insect hatch into a nymph or fly on the surface of the water..(see image) When you observe the Hatch, you get raw intel on what fish will be eating at that exact time. You see the type, the size, the color, how they float, etc. Most great fly fisherman are also great entomologists!
To catch the fish, you must take insight from that hatch and craft, or select a readymade artificial version of the fly. You attach that to the line, cast it into the river and let it float naturally down the river so as to trick the fish into taking a bite… It’s a clever formulaic illusion, and if you do it right, it works and you get dinner! Or, as most pros do, you get a picture and you get to throw it back for the next fisherman.
But, do it wrong and the fish just laugh. It’s subtle but if you don’t get that fly floating just right with the current, it’s obvious to the fish that it’s not food. It’s an art, a science, a skill, and it’s also a bit of luck. You have to know where the fish are hiding, when they’re hungry, what their food looks like and how it moves. You see where I’m going with this?
Culturally, we have similar hatches; and companies participate as if they are fly fishing. They come in during and post hatch - they observe the phenomena, they try to anticipate what will appear, they imitate what they see floating along. These qualitative observations inform what companies hope will be high quality consumer insights. Some are conceptual, some are concrete. Like fish, consumers get spooked and have the best bullshit detectors lately. This is making things difficult - but this challenge is pushing innovation.
Sometimes it works though and this intel informs development of an actually good product; but, I think both that it’s often artificial, and that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to follow that formula. Sure, they’re catching fish, but only while they’re biting on that particular fly - so to speak - and only while it’s so finely crafted we can’t see the line…
The problem is that when we market and develop based on the current hatch, we miss out on stronger insights and on an important stage of gestation and natural process that real products, services, and initiatives need to give them lasting life. This is so obvious - how some of the most valuable startups are working currently within incubation. Using more betas - constantly iterating.
How long does a product/service need to incubate before it’s ready? Can we develop living systems that can evolve even when they’ve been released? There are mixed cases - if we look at the iPhone Gen1 for example it was a product hatched but already still evolving. There was so much room to innovate around the concept that the product itself served both as and endgame and a platform for more development! This type of intentional live gestation allows both feedback and technological growth. It’s hard to say how long the iPhone lived in the belly of the Apple mothership. However, we can apply this thinking to many types of current successful products and services, and to future ideations..
I’m extremely interested in the gestation period. And I do find value in scoping out the hatch to gather cultural insights on consumers in specific environments; but hatching breathing, growing and living ideas is a more valuable long term challenge than just grabbing one fish. Perhaps the saying should be, “Read one hatch right, you get a fish. Learn to hatch your own ideas, you can feed yourself for a lifetime.”
It’s amazing how a simple trip can remind me of the importance of process, nature, and insight through the eyes of a great outdoor pass time. Maybe with more practice I can become proficient at catching dinner and we can keep tuned into nature, the environment, and new travel destinations as access points to visionary innovation.
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Micah Spear is the Creative Braintrust Design Expert and Founder & CEO of Playtime