Colin Duff, Innovation Insights: Triggering Conversations, Inspiring Ideas – Innova.Buzz 589


Colin Duff, Mosaic Innovation.

Our guest in this episode, is Colin Duff, CEO of Mosaic Innovation, a consultancy that helps leading enterprises such as HP, Marriott and BT to crack their toughest growth challenges, build capability and transform their culture. From vodka to Viagra and pensions to prisons he’s led dozens of innovation projects across a wide range of sectors and geographies. He’s also trained and coached hundreds of growth practitioners and is a regular speaker and commentator on all things innovation.

In the conversation, Colin shares his wealth of knowledge on generating breakthrough ideas, uncovering valuable insights, and connecting with customers. Here are three key points we discussed:

  1. Challenge the Norms: Colin urges us to think outside the box and challenge industry norms. By targeting overlooked market segments and considering non-users, neglected segments, and early adopters, we can unlock untapped potential and spark innovation that resonates with diverse audiences.
  2. Embrace Human-Centered Innovation: Colin emphasizes the power of observing real people in action to gain valuable insights. He recounts examples, like Honda’s generator innovation and a small tweak to canned fish packaging, where simple observations led to significant sales uplifts. By connecting with customers regularly and involving them in the innovation process, we can foster collaboration, trigger interesting conversations, and inspire new ideas.
  3. Go Beyond Market Research: While acknowledging the value of market research, Colin highlights that it often tells us what we already know. In contrast, innovation insight is like storytelling, diving into the motivations and experiences of customers. Qualitative research, ethnography, and personally connecting with people remain crucial even in the digital age. By blending thought experiments with real-world experiments, and focusing on customer experience and business model aspects, we can create truly innovative solutions that transcend commodification.

Get ready to embark on a captivating journey of innovation as Colin Duff unveils the secrets to breaking through barriers, sparking game-changing insights, and creating meaningful connections with customers.

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Observing people's real-life experiences can lead to groundbreaking insights. Get out of the office and into the wild to understand your customers better. #CustomerInsights #RealLifeExperiences #InnovaBuzz @ColinPDuff on #InnovaBuzz… Share on X

Show Notes from this episode with Colin Duff, Mosaic Innovation

Key Discussion Points:

  1. Unlocking Breakthrough Insights: Colin discusses the concept of breakthrough insights, emphasizing that they often arise from unique and unexpected angles rather than simply generating better ideas. He presents an example of Pampers’ struggle to convince consumers in China to spend more on diapers. The breakthrough insight came when a mother mentioned that using Pampers had led to an increase in intimacy with her husband. He leaves listeners with a challenge to identify the insight or breakthrough in this situation, highlighting the power of discovering unexpected connections.
  2. Innovation Insight Expert: Colin has been specializing in innovation insight for two decades, helping companies uncover novel insights that lead to breakthrough ideas. He emphasizes the significance of observing people engage in real activities to gain valuable insights, as demonstrated by Honda’s innovation in generators based on observing a customer’s struggle with the product. He stresses the importance of going out into the field, meeting customers regularly, and understanding their needs firsthand.
  3. Beyond Product Improvement: Colin advises against purely focusing on improving features or making products faster, noting that it quickly leads to commodification. He encourages businesses to think broadly about customer experience elements and consider less obvious aspects of the business model, such as pricing and processes, to drive innovation.
  4. Market Research vs. Innovation Insights: Colin acknowledges the value of market research but observes that it comes with inherent biases. He discusses his experiences participating in market research surveys and highlights the repetition of questions across various agencies. He questions the randomness of information gathered through market research and contrasts it with the personalized and open-ended approach of gathering insights from participants’ personal experiences and motivations.
  5. Qualitative Research and Ethnographers: Colin highlights the importance of qualitative research, including observing and speaking with people, even in the digital age. He mentions that ethnographers, who study human behavior, are in high demand and employed by companies like Microsoft. He emphasizes the power of qualitative research in generating insights and challenging what customers might say, citing cognitive biases like social desirability bias.
  6. Presenting Ideas and Conducting Research: Colin provides practical tips for presenting ideas and conducting research. He suggests using video footage of consumers’ reactions to ideas, which may be more powerful than PowerPoint slides. Additionally, he recommends building simple prototypes, such as brochures or outlines of landing pages, to generate energy and encourage participation. He also suggests bringing customers to the client’s premises to create an engaging atmosphere.
  7. The Innovation Process and Putting Humans at the Center: Colin discusses the innovation process, emphasizing the importance of focusing on humans and being expansive in generating ideas. He warns against relying solely on smart models, providing historical examples of their limitations. He underlines the significance of blending thought experiments with real-world experiments, illustrating how people’s behavior can sometimes differ from expectations. He also mentions conducting digital experiments using smoke tests and highlights the uncertainty inherent in innovation, specifically whether people want the product being offered.
  8. Understanding Stakeholder Perspectives: Colin emphasizes the need to consider different stakeholder perspectives, including the user, buyer, and management. He shares a story from a big project for a shipping company involving smart products and connected things. Initially, senior management expressed excitement about the ideas proposed, but concerns were raised about practical issues such as Bluetooth not working near steel and fitting sensors in ropes. Understanding and addressing the perspectives of various stakeholders is crucial for successful innovation.
  9. Challenging Industry Norms: Colin advises listeners to challenge industry norms and target audiences beyond the conventional boundaries. For example, he questions why washing powder companies typically target women as the head of the household and suggests exploring a market for men-only households with a product like “Musk.” Similarly, he points out that the tea market often focuses on middle-class customers with refined tastes, neglecting the working-class segment who may prefer a different type of tea.
  10. Importance of Neglected Segments and Non-Users: Colin advocates for considering neglected segments, non-users, and early adopters when renovating existing products or creating new ones. He shares a story of a project for a canned fish company in which a small innovation like draining the tuna before canning resulted in a significant increase in sales. He emphasizes that many businesses neglect the practice of meeting customers regularly, and he underlines the importance of doing so.

This episode of Innova.Buzz with Colin Duff offers valuable insights and practical tips for businesses seeking to foster innovation and generate breakthrough ideas. Listeners are encouraged to challenge industry norms, engage deeply with customers, and prioritize qualitative research alongside quantitative data. Through thought experiments, real-world observations, and a focus on human-centeredness, businesses can unlock breakthrough insights that lead to successful innovation.

Great ideas alone are not enough. It's the breakthrough insights that unlock the 'aha' moments. Are you ready to have your 'aha' moment? #BreakthroughInsights #AhaMoment #InnovaBuzz @ColinPDuff on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are Colin’s answers to the questions of our innovation round. Listen to the conversation to get the full scoop.

  1. 1 thing to be more innovative – Curiosity – challenge basic assumptions and ask why.
  2. Best thing for new ideas – Taking things from one context and applying them to another category – associative and divergent thinking.
  3. Favourite resource – Design Thinking Toolbox.
  4. Keep project/client on track – Impose budgetary and time deadlines.
  5. Differentiate – Think more broadly, e.g. 10 different types of innovation.


Conduct customer observation, for example speak to customers in your shop, observe customers using your product, even mystery shopping. Use your own products as a customer.

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Colin through the Mosaic Innovation website.

Suggested Guest

Colin suggested we have a conversation with author and behavioural economist, Dr Patrick Fagan on a future InnovaBuzz Podcast episode.


Cool Things About Colin

  • He’s led over 100 major innovation projects, has trained hundreds of practitioners, and has published dozens of articles.
  • Career highlights include swelling sales of Viagra for Pfizer; posting record profits for the Irish Postal Service and sniffing out new fragrance opportunities for P&G.
Sometimes, the key to success lies in understanding unexpected connections and uncovering the hidden insights. #MakingConnections #HiddenInsights #InnovaBuzz @ColinPDuff on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

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Jürgen Strauss

Dr. Jürgen Strauss is The World's Best Human-Centred Podcasting Coach and the only Podcast Innovator with the signature bright yellow headphones, who masterfully crafts human connection for high-impact achievers in a vibrant community. You can find Jürgen on LinkedIn, The InnovaBuzz Podcast, The Flywheel Nation Community as well as on Innovabiz' InstagramTwitter, Facebook pages and his personal Photography website.  

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