Yesterday I was given a tour round the Riverside Studios by Guy Hornsby.
He told me a great story.
This has always been a big TV studio, he said – lots of famous British programmes made here. In the sixties, they made everything from Top of the Pops to Dixon of Dock Green (a police series), to the first eight series of Dr Who. And the reason that the Tardis (the space and time travel machine) in Dr Who is a blue police box is that they needed a space/ time travel machine for the shoot, and Dixon of Dock Green had been using it as a prop and just finished filming. So the Dr Who team said ‘let’s use that’.
Rob Poynton of On Your Feet talks about the importance of ‘using what you have’. And how if you do, the inspiration is not simply easier to access, but often a more stimulating springboard to further ideas. Imagine if that team had had the time and the budget to invent and plan a time machine for Dr Who. It would have taken them months, and they’d have ended up with some futuristic silver thing that dated very badly within five years. instead they took a police box that was right in front of them and created an idiosyncratic icon that is a key part of the audience’s emotional attachment with the show.
How did they explain away the use of a police box? I had forgotten this, so looked it up on Wikipedia:
‘A properly maintained and piloted TARDIS can transport its occupants to any point in time and space. The interior of a TARDIS is much larger than its exterior, which can blend in with its surroundings through the ship’s “chameleon circuit”. In the series, the Doctor pilots an unreliable, obsolete Type 40 TARDIS, whose chameleon circuit is faulty, leaving it locked in the shape of a 1950s-style London police box after a visit to London in 1963’
I like the concept of ‘Use what you have’. The reason Knorr stock cubes were historically a different shape to any other stock cube on the market was that the founder was keen to get to market quickly, and used what he had immediate access to: a butter pat machine. Glenmorangie as a malt has a lightness unmatched by other malts is because the founder was opportunistic and used gin stills to make it, which have a longer ‘neck’ than whisky stills.
There are two kinds of constraint in innovation – the first is Disabling Constraint. Disabling constraint is to do with the kinds of self limiting beliefs and perceptual blocks that impede the ability to see and realise real opportunities; as such, they live largely in the mind. Enabling Constraints, conversely, tend to be more physical, and centre around resource, or what appear to be the basics for the category. For challenger brands, these are enabling constraints because they force the challenger to innovate in a different place, in a different way. Lean into ‘large canvas innovation’ rather than ‘small canvas innovation’. The restriction propels the challenger to think more innovatively in places the Establishment brand hasn’t historically needed to, and so find fresh points of uniqueness. Stock cubes in the shape of butter pats. Space travel machines in the shape of police boxes, even.
At the very least it forces for a unique product.
But it makes for a much more interesting story as well.