Welcome to The Big Stretch

Once a year, Happen & Winkle come together for a day of inspiring talks and debate. The purpose? To observe from leading academics, innovators, entrepreneurs and each other. To open our minds to new tools, techniques or ways of thinking that are changing our world.


Here’s what we observed this year:


DIY experts have created a parallel world

Innovating quickly, and rigorously validating your results, are not two mutually exclusive ways of working. Unfortunately, many organisations attempting to emulate agile, lean startup practices have opted for the ‘quick and dirty’ innovation approach over systematic testing and iteration. “People are keen to have shortened and de-risked innovation cycles,” explained one of our speakers. “But we as market researchers should make sure research is based on valid evidence.”

The Happen view: 

“To increase innovation success rates, an experimental and iterative approach to testing, selecting and crafting new ideas is key. Yet it is about finding the right balance between trusting your gut and ‘death by research’ – iteration and early validation are important, but clients need to be confident in their experience and knowledge. They should still be prepared to take a stand and be bold when it comes to decision-making. Too much research, can kill any good idea.”
~ Joris Westerman Managing Director, Happen NL

Test, test, test – then test some more

Failure is the result of failing to test. If you innovate with multiple learning loops along the way, you’re covered. Whether it’s AB testing, research, or other tools, keep testing your assumptions until you’ve proven – without a doubt – that there is a need for your innovation. If it’s proven wrong, or not quite right, pivot or stop.

The Happen view: 

“We take more iterative approaches to innovation, while working with multi-disciplinary client teams on all our challenges.”
~ Joris Westerman Managing Director, Happen NL

But don’t test in silos

It’s easy to validate an idea if you’re only sharing it with people that agree with you. As well as looking to consumers for feedback, take a multidisciplinary approach and collaborate with other teams across your company. Teams that see your iterative, rigorous approach, will then know how to innovate with the same rigour when they want to develop ideas independently. “Leveraging learnings across the entire organisation means we’re not just doing the same things over and over,” explained one Big Stretch speaker.

The Happen view: 

“Clients are concerned by another side of working in silos: dropping some of their ideas at the very last hurdle of validation. A collaborative approach throughout the entire innovation process is something we are proud of enabling with our clients – we make sure they can purposely nurture ideas all the way to launch.”
~ Christelle Pradhan, Account Director, Winkle

The dangers of AI are already here

Companies are already using machine learning to attempt to learn from and modify consumer behaviour. Great, right…? But for whom, exactly? “Facebook knows when people are happy or sad, and when people are sad they like to shop – so ads on Facebook sell them things,” says Inne ten Have, Innovation Manager at de Volksbank. “But who’s on my side, as a user? In the face of AI the user is powerless, like sheep. I’ve designed games – I know how easy it is to manipulate people. We need to think about what the goal of the algorithm is. Because trust is under pressure.”

The Happen view: 

“Some of the challenges around manipulating A,I and algorithms in particular, is more of a moral/ethical discussion and we are curious to see how Gen Ys, as they become more influential in business, will have more of a say on how it operates ethically. Especially when you consider Facebook’s approach – run by an iconic Gen Y in Zuckerberg – is leading the way in manipulating bias! Older Gen Ys have grown up with a more open attitude to online sharing, which may be influencing the guidelines they apply. However, we are seeing the younger Gen Ys and older Gen Zs being far more protective of their online world and putting more trust in their peer group, so perhaps as they become a stronger influence in the next digital world developments, they will be less inclined to see algorithms used to alienate or manipulate minds and behaviours for commercial gain.”
~ Suzanne Robinson – Managing Director, Happen UK

Consumer trust has eroded. Now is the time to regain it

Fake news. Misinformation. Alternative facts. Whatever you call it, it’s damaged trust in politicians, elections, journalism and brands. And in the context of Inne’s point about Facebook (which has, to date, carried out vast studies to see if it can make people sad and told advertisers it knows when teens feel “worthless”), AI could potentially further erode that trust. It has already been shown to reinforce existing biases related to race and gender when used in fields as disparate as criminal sentencing and recruitment. There is another way, though. “It’s better to win trust than spend money on algorithms,” says Innes. “Do you want to win the race, or the hearts and minds of your consumers? We need to use AI to give consumers power, and really connect with them.”

Consumer connection, and understanding real-time behaviour, was a popular topic at The Big Stretch. And, used correctly, AI has the potential to both empower consumers and help companies better fulfil those customers’ needs.

The Happen view: 

“We have always believed it is incumbent on all of us, especially brand owners, to ensure that the stories we tell and the claims we make are based on evidence that can be backed up. The world of FMCG, particularly food and drink, has had to work in an increasingly transparent way to build trust after some very public food scares. It feels increasingly important now that any messaging is as clear and unambiguous as possible, because we have observed that whilst we are seeing an increasing desire for authenticity and transparency from Gen Y (only set to get more important with Gen Z), there is less of a desire to dig deep and ensure claims are genuinely true.”
~ Suzanne Robinson – Managing Director, Happen UK

Other items on every company’s wishlist in 2019?

1. Early validation – how can we anticipate, at the earliest stage, whether an idea will resonate?
2. Quick (but not dirty) innovation
3. Data analytics that’s combined with human intelligence
4. Standardisation of the innovation process

Innovating at the top of your game, means always stretching your thinking.

Our speakers’ recommended reads

The Lean Startup, Eric Ries
It might be ubiquitous – but there’s a reason. The 2011 tome carries core lessons for innovation: iterate, be agile, know your customer, and test with them as early as possible. In a large organisation, it’s about restructuring to ensure teams have the resources, guidance and time to collaborate and test.

The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols
The internet has brought with it a mind boggling amount of information – 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every day. It has allowed new ideas, innovators and entrepreneurs to flourish where they otherwise may have not. But it also accelerated the death of expertise, argues Nichols. This book is a stark warning of what happens when you stop listening to experts.