Four Strategies for Innovation

By Alan Gehringer

dateTue, Oct 28, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

“Innovation is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.” 

- Albert Szent-Guorgi, 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine


How many new products or services do you introduce a year?  Where do you gain your insight on what those products or services should be?

In order to continue growing your business profitably, you know that you have to constantly introduce new offerings that allow you to compete on value, not price, in order to maintain the highest possible margins.  To accomplish this, it is necessary to find opportunities in the market and provide solutions your competition has not considered.

If you have read any of my previous blogs on innovation, you already know that I am a big fan of 3M and the resources they put into innovating new products each year.  Their goal is to earn 30% of their annual revenue from sales on products introduced in the past five years. One of my suggestions as you gear up for annual planning and budgeting this year is to make sure you have a key initiative around innovation and a line item in the budget to support it.  Once you have done this, you need to have a strategy for coming up with those new ideas.

Robert Tucker is a professor and innovation consultant I had the pleasure of meeting about ten years ago. I subscribe to his Innovation Trends newsletter to stay abreast of his learning and thinking. Each time he travels, he takes time to stop into the largest hyper-mart he can find to identify what new products are being introduced, who has aisle space and what trends are emerging. He calls this “Trend Tracking” and uses this information to see around corners which he credits learning from Filippo Passerini of Proctor & Gamble. Fillipo credits this approach to his passion for competitive chess, in that it forces you to think two or three moves ahead. 

“All the great innovators do this. They take in more data, more inputs from the environment, from the meeting, from wherever.”

- Filippo Passerini

Robert Tucker suggests the following four strategies to help us see around corners to avoid being blindsided:

  1. Setup a Future Scan System - Perform an audit of the information you take in that helps you understand the technological, social, economic and global trends occurring.  Tucker suggests reading two or three newspapers a day, five or more periodicals a month, reports, white papers and blogs.
  2. Develop Front Line Observational Skills - Keep your antennae up at all times, when you are walking through airports, malls and your own organization.  Immerse yourself in environments and surround yourself with people that stimulate your imagination and creativity.
  3. Master the Art of the Deep Dive - This is something we do and recommend to our clients often.  Question the status quo, look for questions to which the answers are not clear and dedicate “Think” time to dig deep and to discover and explore new ideas and solutions in a way that other have not thought of.
  4. Look for Ways to Exploit Trends - Richard Barton, whose startups include Zillow, Expedia, Glassdoor and others, hatches billion-dollar ideas by repeatedly asking a simple question: “What piece of marketplace information do people crave and don’t have?”  Look for trends and gather intelligence, analyze it, think creatively on how to turn today’s rapid changes into tomorrow’s growth opportunities.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."  

Albert Einstein

You may have other strategies that drive your innovation activities.  If so, please drop me a line and share them.  The key is to ensure you have a framework and a rhythm and dedicate the time, money and resources to fuel innovation in your company.  Doing so will lead to bright and prosperous future.  Maybe you can adopt 3M’s 30% rule.

Good luck and innovate well, Alan


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Alan Gehringer


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