Challenging Assumptions: Lessons from 24 Mansmith Innovation Awards Winners

(Winners of the 3rd Mansmith Innovation Awards proudly holding their Imao-sculptured trophies, pictured from left to right: RR Chua of Immuni Global, Dr. Aris Alip of CARD MRI, SEC Chairman Emilio AquinoJimmy Thai of Primer, Edward Lee of COL Financial, and Auke Idzenga of AIDFI. They are joined by co-founders Josiah Go and Chiqui Escareal-Go, along with UnionBank CEO Edwin Bautista, a master innovator winner from the first batch.)

In business, shaking things up often means being different rather than just making them better. The Mansmith Innovation Awards winners from the last three years have nailed this concept. Instead of solely being creative, they challenge the usual beliefs in their industry, a key aspect of genuine innovation.

A common notion is that innovation starts with ideation, but that’s not the initial step. It’s not always about pinpointing problems first either. The crucial start is challenging the assumptions in your industry. This comes before seeking out problems to solve. Why? Because it gives you a broader view of what’s happening. It helps you notice important changes or opportunities in the market or industry that you might overlook if you only focus on problems.

Questioning ideas and gaining new insights means having a curious, open-minded, always-learning mindset. It’s about thinking critically, being open to significant changes, and understanding that our minds can sometimes play tricks on us.

Now, let’s dive into some examples from past Mansmith Innovation Awards winners (here’s just a part of the list)

  1. CARD MRI: Rethinking Microfinance – CARD MRI questioned the idea that lending to the mass market would result in a lot of non-performing loans. They came up with a way of collecting money and helping the community get involved, leading to an incredible 99% success rate in collecting payments. Using this new way, they’ve helped over 9 million customers, offering lower interest rates than what most people usually get.
  2. COL Financial: Democratizing Stockbrokerage – COL Financial challenged the notion that stockbrokerage firms had to rely only on big institutional clients and high-net-worth individuals to thrive. Today, they serve over half a million clients with a portfolio exceeding P100 billion.
  3. Primer Group: Expanding Beyond Core Competency – Primer Group challenged the conventional growth strategy that focused on core competency and territorial expansion within a country. They expanded their outlook by entering related categories, transitioned from importers to brand owners, and expanded internationally.
  4. UnionBank: Leading Digital Transformation – Aboitiz-led UnionBank disrupted the traditional banking model by challenging the assumption that banks needed thousands of physical branches. They created the first digital-first bank in the Philippines, growing their customer base by more than 2.5 times in less than 4 years.
  5. Chooks-To-Go: Redefining Chicken Retail – Chooks-To-Go transformed chicken retail by challenging the idea that selling chicken had to include mandatory free sauce. Since their start in 2008, they rapidly expanded to over 2,000 stores, securing the top spot as the market leader in rotisserie chicken.
  6. ConvergeICT: The Fiber Revolution – ConvergeICT challenged the idea that providing affordable high-speed internet through fiber at scale was impossible. They introduced the first pure end-to-end fiber service in the Philippines, offering it at affordable rates and fundamentally changing the landscape of the industry.
  7. GCash: Pioneering Cashless Transactions – GCash revolutionized the financial sector by challenging the belief that cash would always be the preferred payment method. Today, they boast nearly 90 million users engaging in cashless transactions.
  8. Mega Sardines: Elevating Quality over Price – Mega Sardines questioned the idea that consumers’ main concern when buying sardines was low prices. They pioneered the first 12-hour catch-to-can sardines, putting quality above price with top-grade sardines.
  9. Cebuana Lhuillier: Pioneering Microinsurance – Cebuana Lhuillier, a chain of pawnshops, challenged the idea that life insurance was only for the AB income class. They led the way in microinsurance, selling millions of policies monthly and making life insurance available to a broader segment of the population.
  10. Carmen’s Best: The Premium Ice Cream Experience – Carmen’s Best questioned the idea that Filipino ice cream should be low-priced. They introduced the first successful super premium ice cream in the Philippines, captivating the market with a new level of indulgence.
  11. Mercato Centrale: Mentoring Food Enthusiasts – Mercato Centrale evolved from a food market into a food market incubator, emphasizing more sustainable operations.
  12. IMMUNI +: Empowering Health Locally. Immuni + challenged the assumption in the pharmaceutical industry that innovation is primarily the domain of large, established players, and there are significant barriers to entry for newcomers. They introduced IMMUNI herbal drink, utilizing local ingredients and promoting it from the grassroots.
  13. The Public Sector: SEC’s Digital Transformation – The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) questioned the need for manual submissions and embraced a digital transformation journey, turning SEC into an operation free from paperwork and intermediary hassles.
  14. AIDFI: NGO Self-Sustainability – The Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc (AIDFI) questioned the idea that NGOs cannot deliver appropriate technologies professionally and provide high-quality services. They concentrated on achieving self-sustainability to enhance their ability to serve over 600 rural villages.

These outstanding organizations have not just challenged industry norms but have also transformed their respective sectors, demonstrating that by questioning assumptions before identifying pain points, they can unlock new possibilities for their organizations. Their journeys highlight the importance of questioning assumptions in the pursuit of innovation. As Mansmith’s 4 Steps to Innovation is introduced to organizations seeking to learn innovation systematically, the initiative empowers them to make substantial changes in their businesses and industries, providing a competitive edge and laying the foundation for future success.


Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. He is also a co-founder of the Mansmith Innovation Awards. To ask Mansmith Innovation team to help challenge assumptions in your industries, email

The search for the 4th Mansmith Innovation Awards is ongoing. Send your application/nomination here:

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Josiah Go features the movers and shakers of the business world and writes about marketing, strategy, innovation, execution and entrepreneurship


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