Case Studies: Superheroes – Eliminating Material Costs

Working with a large corporate, they had been battling with making budget savings within the manufacturing units. Under significant pressure from central HQ, local management had found that doing more of the same but trying harder simply wasn’t working – they needed to inject some fresh thinking.

Problem Owner: Procurement Manager

Key Definition of Creativity:

How can we reduce the cost-base, but continue to deliver the same output?

Problem as Defined

How can we clearly define realistic priorities in order to manage change?

Problem Exploration Technique

Boundary Examination

Problem As Understood

In what way might I guarantee that every single supplier delivers product for zero charge?

Note: the redefinition massively raises the bar, above the mental blockages, demanding breakthrough thinking if we are to find a real solution

Idea Generation


Superheroes is the creative antidote to the all-too-often-less-than-creative brainstorming technique. Brainstorming is usually conducted by getting a team of experts together, locking them in a room, and getting them to generate loads of ideas.

Now, these are the guardians of “the way we have always done things round here” – and they are consequentially locked into conventional and traditional thinking. They can generate plenty of ideas – but they are heavily focused on useful, rather than novel …. the latter being unconventional/untraditional, such ideas are treated as unworkable, and therefore dismissed, assuming that they are ever even shared as a thought!

And yet these novel and useless ideas are the essential first stage of the creative process!

To overcome this resistance to these intermediate impossibles, the Superheroes techniques involves a pack of cards, each one defining a separate superhero and the associated characteristics, attributes. Each person is handed a card, they read the card …. and then brainstorm …. In the style of their superhero!


So, Step 1 …


Intermediate Impossibles (Novel and Useless):


Step 2: each of these Intermediate Impossibles is novel (of course, they use superhero skills) but useless (of course … they use superhero skills!). The trick is then to simply treat each a metaphor for something in the real world, drawing upon and retaining elements of the novelty but then converted to something useful, that could actually be delivered within the organisation. The task of the facilitator is then to work with the team to find that germ of a creative idea.

Understand Selected Solutions:

A common theme emerges across off of the above solutions – establishing an irresistible trade/barter in return for product


What has the company got to trade with? Reputation, research, expertise, purchasing power

Ask suppliers what the company has that they would value greater than the cost of the product. Might mean moving to more expensive suppliers – but since the charge is waived, not a worry. Need to understand the motivation of the suppliers – why not simply ask them, in the right context?

Consider a pilot with, say, the top 5 suppliers. Use the assembled team to provide support and involvement. This pilot to demonstrate the principle …. even if it is only a marginal saving at this early stage (going straight onto the bottom line, of course).

Potential return? Top 5 suppliers charge the corporate approx. £50m per annum. A saving of just 2% = £1m … which goes straight onto the bottom line!