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‘Make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.’

Tom Thornhill

The east of England is a hub for some of the most innovative firms in the UK. A serial innovator, Dr Clive Edmonds has been on the front line in many interesting innovations that have changed markets. I was gripped by his enthusiasm and passion for all things innovative. One innovation on Clive’s long list involved the development of an in-can beer widget. Of course I had to ask more…

What is the story of the In-can beer widget?

To summarise, Guinness originally invented the in-can beer widget. They spent 20 years developing it. Its release certainly caused turmoil in the market! The widget generated a half a billion pound industry in sales in 5 years. As I am sure you can imagine it was extremely profitable for companies running it.

How were you involved?

I have been involved in the creation of two in-can beer widgets. The first was for the Whitbread Group to produce a competitor in-can beer widget for brands like Heineken and Boddingtons.

The second was for John Smiths. In this case we were asked by Scottish and Newcastle brewery to develop a competitor system, get around the patents already in place and commercially launch the product in under twelve months! Compared to Guinness’s twenty years this was certainly a challenge.

I have found the key to innovation is an inquisitive mind. Especially in the case of the in-can beer widget, people assume there are constraints when often there are none. Often you can break patents by looking at things in reverse. In the case of our in-can widget, that is exactly what we did.

Guinness in their patent inserted the widget into the base of the can. Our solution did the reverse. To get around the patient we ‘inserted’ the can over the widget. My team was able to launch the ‘John Smith’s’ canned product in less than one year.

Innovation does not have to be the first-to-market it can also be fast-follower products that add value and competitiveness.

What is innovation in your eyes?

There is a lovely phrase that keeps ringing true. That is ‘make the strange familiar and the familiar strange’. You need to challenge your perceptions of reality and break those paradigms.

It is all well and good saying these phrases but there is a good video explaining this.

It describes the world in dots. Many people believe that the dots they see every day are all the dots there are. The majority of our decisions and solutions are made based on these everyday dots.

Innovators are the people that come along and see new dots. You have to think outside of these dots to innovate. People have to look at the world in a different way. The iPhone or the internet are pieces of technology we take for granted that were completely unheard of 30 years ago.

As an innovation expert, what lessons have you learnt?

Firstly there are no guarantees to innovation. There is no guarantee of a return.

Secondly, real innovation is about tackling and solving the hardest problems.

My strategy for any project is that we approach the most challenging part first. At the very least if the project fails, that failure occurs at the at the first hurdle rather than one year into development. This saves all the stakeholders time and money.

A good example from my career involved the development of a self-heating food product alongside one of the biggest food packaging companies in the UK.

The company had researched and planned out their whole market strategy: how they were going to market it, what pricing strategy they would implement. The only problem was they had not crossed the hardest bridge. In this case they didn’t have the technology to actually build the product.

Over the year we worked with them to create the technology. The lesson I have learned over the years is that real Innovation comes from tackling and solving the hard problems.

Clive will be speaking at the next Chadwick’s masterclass on innovation and the perils and rewards of early stage investing taking place on Wednesday 14 November at 8.15am (repeated at 12.15pm) at The Enterprise Centre, UEA.

The event is free to attend but booking is essential here

Keep in touch with our future classes, or sign up for the final class on ‘Behavioural Insights’ here