All great leaders — whether private or public sector — have these three questions on their lips right now:

“What do our customer’s really want?”

“How can we design and launch something they’ll use time and time again?”

“And how can we actually make this happen in months — not years?”

Want to unlock innovation fast? Tom Cornwall, shares his five lessons to help you get the best results:

Customer experience. Digital innovation. Speed to market. How can you have all three? After all, the stakes have never been higher.

What 46% of senior leaders are getting wrong

In the largest study of its kind ever conducted, Microsoft found that nearly half (44%) of 1,000 senior leaders polled believe their business models will cease to exist in five years.

Yet 46% also believe their senior leadership are unwilling to disrupt their existing business to grow and compete more in the future.

At Rainmaker, we recently helped the Department for International Tradeachieve this with a new digital service. And we did it all — from concept to launch — in just three months.

We did it all — from concept to launch — in just three months.

This wasn’t a small challenge.

We weren’t just building a new website. This was proper digital transformation. Taking an organisation with legacy policies, legacy systems and legacy ways of working and reimagining them. Redesigning them around the needs of today’s citizen. And embedding the skills and culture to continuously innovate and improve.

It wasn’t easy.

Getting things done in any big organisation is tough. The public sector has it’s own set of challenges. Politics and risk aversion often get in the way. Cultural cynicism can easily drag a project down.

But it mattered.

Success meant the Department could better help UK businesses grow internationally. Better support the UK economy. And make a difference to millions of lives.

That’s why we took it on. It pushed us to really think about how to transform an organisation for the digital-age.

So, whether you’re trying to make change happen in the public sector. Or you’re in a business and want to launch new products, innovate and disrupt the status quo. Here’s five lessons to help you succeed:

1. Start with a clear vision

How often does a project kick-off without any real end in mind? And how often do these projects go on-and-on for years?

(As an aside, one of our team recently overheard this on a call, “…And the second key issue is that we don’t know what the vision is for the programme, so we need to put some time into that so we know what we’re trying to achieve”. It does make you wonder what the first key issue was…)

With this project, we were given a clear vision by the client. We helped refine this in our initial kick-off workshop so they knew what success looked like, they could write it down, there was agreement from the top-team. Of course, there were some issues getting buy-in across the organisation — there always are — but this helped us work out a plan to get from where they were to where they wanted to be.

It can be tempting to say, “let’s just get on with it”. But it’s worth putting in some real, focused thought to agree “why” before you do. Then breaking down silos and really breaking bread across your organisation so that you’re all pulling in the same direction.

2. Get the right team, not just the right individuals

Forget technology, process mapping and other tactics — the most important variable is getting the right people. But not just great individuals but great teams.

Because unlike a few hand-picked contractors, teams with experience working together on day one can make things happen 2x, 5x, even 10x faster (and avoid bust-ups that lead to siloed working).

I’m not just saying that because it sounds like the kind of thing a consultant would say. I’m saying it because I’ve got the battle-scars to prove it.

Over the years I’ve hired people with great portfolios, who’ve worked with household name brands…but were a nightmare to work with and cost me multiples to resolve. Equally, I’ve hired scrappy people who, alone, didn’t stand out on a pile of CV’s but acted as the glue that helped the team get things done smoothly.

So when we landed on the DIT project, we knew who should do what — and trusted them to get on with it. Plus we “worked out loud”, sharing ideas and work in progress with the wider Rainmaker team over Slack to get their collective experience.

3. See the world through your customer’s eyes

It pays to take a service design approach to transformation. This means really getting to know the people you’re designing for. Then building a solution to help them do what they need to do. A solution that understands their needs, removes pain-points and just makes sense right away.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”


Abraham Lincoln famously said


Great service design is how Uber, Airbnb and even Apple constantly improve their customer experiences — and outsmart the competition. This kind of success never happens by accident, it happens by design.

To get this right, we put in the hours to really get to know British businesses and international buyers. This required more than just opinions in a survey. We took the time to speak to people face-to-face, to listen, to observe and really understand their hopes, fears and dreams. And asked questions like: “How are they currently solving a problem?”, “What challenges are they facing?”, “What do they truly need to grow faster?”

Taking the time up-front can seem like a distraction from “getting on with it”. But it’s so worth it. I’ve seen multi-million pound failures happen all because stubborn executives preferred to sit in meetings, rather than getting to know their customers. After all, you can only create value if you truly know what value you can create.

4. Use the new science of innovation

Whether public sector or private, your goal is the same: change behaviour. If you can, you’re innovating. If you can’t, you’re just wasting time, effort and the world’s resources.

“The best — maybe the only? — real, direct measure of “innovation” is change in human behaviour.”


Stewart Butterfield,

the CEO of Slack, recently said


But how can you be sure you’ll achieve this in advance?

That’s why behavioural economics has become known as the “new science of innovation”. Because it provides you with tried-and-tested principles to make products and services successful from day one. Think about it, what more valuable asset is there in business than understanding why we do what we do? Whether that’s your customers or your people.

Plus, if you’ve got an existing service, you can often find small things can make a big impact. You just need to know where to look and how to deploy it.

On this project we used CHOICES, our behaviour change toolkit, to drive adoption and make the product sticky. Little details like adding certainty to the sign-up steps and providing positive feedback at the right time — these all added up.

This is the future of customer experience — shining a light on hidden opportunities that research alone cannot reveal.

5. Have a massive looming deadline

This one I’m cautious to advise. Arbitrary deadlines can derail projects, forcing you to cut corners and take “me-too” approaches. But when you take an iterative approach to delivery it really does help to get things done more effectively, deliver benefits fast, and make a hero of the senior responsible owner in the organisation.

In this case, the Secretary of State had already announced the launch date publicly. So it had to happen. And, whether intentional or not, it forced prioritisation. We constantly asked, “Is this vital? Does it need to happen now?”.

Because, ultimately, the challenge of disrupting a large organisation is disrupting the accepted culture. Once people realise it’s possible to deliver something in months, when projects used to take years, it becomes the new norm. A bit like the 4-minute mile. It wasn’t until 1954 that Roger Bannister achieved the “impossible”. A year on and dozens of athletes had beat his time.

Of course every project is different. But if you get these five things right — clarity of vision, the right team, understanding your customers up-front, using proven science to guide your innovations and being committed to deliver to deadlines — you too can make the seemingly impossible happen.

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