"Innovation Consulting using Catalytic Converters"

Connie Williams, CMO & CKO, Synecticsworld

By Connie Williams

There is a longstanding story that seems simplistic but is very wise: The story of the woman in the pit.

One day a woman comes along and has a problem. She has fallen into a deep pit. Why can’t she get out? She can’t see her pathway out and she can’t see the horizon. She is deep in the pit and has lost perspective. As she looks around for a creative solution, she can only see more dirt.

As she contemplates her dilemma, an expert comes along. This expert knows pits very well; in fact he has a long history of experience in this particular kind of hole. So the person in the pit asks him to help her get out.

Instead, the expert jumps down into the pit with her so he can explain all about the characteristics of this pit. He too only sees the narrowness and darkness of the pit. Now, the two of them are stuck! When they try to jump out, they slide back down.

As time goes along, a third person comes along, and he doesn’t know anything about the pit. But he has walked with others up some nearby mountain trails. Instead of jumping into the pit, he asks the woman,


Catalytic Converters by Connie Williams of Synecticsworld

 “How can I help you?” 

“What do you know about getting out of pits?” the woman asks.

“Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know that if you use a less direct path up the mountain, by switching back and forth, you can get up some difficult terrain,” he answers from outside the pit.


The woman looks around and sees that if she makes a switchback up the back side of the pit, there is a possibility she hadn’t seen before. It’s not perfect and she may get a little dirty, but she can see the chance that she could not see before to get to the top, where she can lift herself out of the pit.

That story is the why behind our love affair with what we call catalysts, professionals from another field who bring different expertise and new perspectives that can spark completely fresh solutions. Catalysts can be secret sparks in helping our clients think in a fresh way about an issue or opportunity, especially in an invention session. It’s not about subject matter expertise in a direct way, it’s about seeing creative new connections, in new contexts.

The key is figuring out how to choose those catalysts. One way is to look at it from a macro level – up a notch or two to think about the essence of the problem without concerns over the individual market or business characteristics. Then find and listen to people who:

  • Have faced an analogous situation or business context

  • Understand an aspect of the task from a completely different point of view

  • Work professionally in some aspect of the “essence” of the problem in a big picture way

Using catalysts requires open mindedness and respect on the part of the problem owner – and trust in your inherent ability to make fresh connections to your problem from seemingly unrelated worlds. We are connection-making machines and when we listen to new possibilities, many new ways out of the pit can be explored.


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