Embracing Innovation

Innovation beats improvement every time when it comes to advancing your business. Improvement is doing the same things better (such as lowering your costs through negotiation, increasing your sales through new promotions, and so forth). Innovation is doing better things — often using existing resources.

Don't get me wrong — improvements are important and necessary, and they should not be overlooked. However, Innovation involves fundamentally rewriting the rules to your advantage and not giving your competitors the updated copy. Innovation can take you light-years beyond ordinary better-business practices, to the point where your competitors can even become irrelevant.

The phenomenal impact of innovation over traditional business improvements is easily seen in the Fuller Innovation-Improvement Curve. Improvement eventually reaches limits (you can cut costs only so far, run the same ads only so many times, reduce your workforce by only so much, and so forth). Innovation, on the other hand, can have near-limitless potential, as it is independent of the limits so often associated with improvement.


The ability to innovate is a foundational trait of the most successful businesses in the world, whether they have 10,000 employees or 10 or even just one. Successful innovation ensures continued success through both good and bad times. And here is the great secret: Innovation can be easy and does not need to be expensive. In fact, some of the best innovations you and I have ever seen were free.

Innovation can be applied to your products, your marketing strategies, and even to your internal operations where solid innovation does not just make office life better but fundamentally transforms your work environment.

Innovation is not available only to the Fortune 500, the mega-capitalized or the hottest Internet companies. Those monsters are often embroiled in the vicious cycle of hard innovation — where millions, if not billions, of dollars are spent and entire companies gambled on the success or failure of a few R&D adventures.

Instead, every day of every year, thousands of enterprises make leaps-andbounds forward movements by focusing on what is known as "soft innovation" — innovation that does not require massive capital outlays and years of development. Soft innovations may include unique and compelling approaches to marketing or building powerful customer-driven relationships with staggeringly greater results. They may also include major philosophical advances in the vision, design and implementation of your Web strategies to create truly interactive and engaging experiences.


In his best-selling book Free Prize Inside!, marketing innovation guru Seth Godin discusses the intense need to make your products, services and overall business remarkable — remarkable in the sense that others will make positive remarks about those products, services and your business that provides them, which in turn drives more business to you.

Soft innovation thrives on low-cost creativity that is easy to implement, yet often quite daring, and that stirs and invigorates people to the point where they first take notice, and then take action by becoming your customers. Consider, for example, Southwest Airlines. The company could have spent millions to create a frills-filled air travel experience. Instead, the people who ran Southwest recognized there was an enormous target market of travelers that just wanted the cheapest tickets available. And that is exactly what Southwest offers — no in-flight meals, prearranged seating or other amenities. This soft innovation has saved millions for Southwest, making it one of the most profitable airlines in the world.

You, your products, your services and your company can easily be just as remarkable. As Godin also points out, you need to first "fix what is broken." This means to remedy the basic operational deficiencies and inefficiencies in order to maximize your opportunities for innovation.


When I talk to companies about innovation, initial protests (and some of the real concerns) often include:

• We can't afford it.

• We don't need it.

• We can't do it.

To which I respond:

You choose not to afford it because you don't recognize that solid Innovation will pay for itself a hundredfold and more. You need to ask, "How can I afford it." That is the thinking of an engaged mind.

You absolutely do need it because one of your competitors is going to figure out a better mousetrap and put you out of business while you're thinking nothing is broken.

You can do it because you and your team are smart, but maybe you haven't had sufficient guidance in this particular area to unlock your creative potential. Or, maybe you just aren't sure where to start.

Once you have broken down the selfimposed barriers to innovation, you begin to create the environment where creativity and innovation can thrive.


A culture and environment that encourages and nourishes innovation will always breed further innovation. You will "catch the bug" and be consistently more engaged in the continual pursuit of new ideas.

Concepts from completely disconnected industries will present relevant applications to your business.

Others around you will also catch the bug. They will take greater initiative and be more accountable to your company's overall success. Even your customers will begin to participate at no charge in the innovation process as they discover you are genuinely committed and focused on innovation and experiencing incredible advances.


Earthquakes are measured in orders of magnitude: Each incremental step is 10 times greater than the previous step (i.e. a 6.0 earthquake is 10 times as powerful as a 5.0 earthquake). The fact that good innovation leads to even more Innovation is what produces the orderof-magnitude advances often experienced by active innovators. So, just like the earthquake, successful innovation can make earth-shattering impacts on your business or industry. The simple truth is that some of the greatest innovations have come from some of the most unlikely places.


From just about all appearances, the small, rural community of Manderfield, Utah, is quite unremarkable — just one of thousands of tiny farming communities that dot the American countryside. Not much has changed since it was settled in 1865, or since Philo T. Farnsworth was born there a century ago on Aug. 19, 1906.

Don't feel bad if you don't know about Philo – the truth is, most people don't.

In 1920 at age 14, young Philo drew a picture for his teacher of a device he thought up that would receive a visual scene through an ordinary camera's glass lens and convert it to an electron image that could be sent out as a signal at the other end of the device. It took him another seven years to build the device, but his breakthrough innovation was finally unveiled on Sept. 7, 1927. As his wife, Pem, recounted to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2002 at age 94: "It was a very small screen, about the size of a postage stamp, an inch and a half square. At first, we were stunned. It was too good to be true. Then Philo said, 'There you have it — electric television.'"

Television! Imagine how different things might be had Philo's school teacher said, "Philo, quit being a dreamer. Just stick to farming and put these foolish ideas aside." Literally billions of lives have been touched by this invention. And the postage stamp-sized screen. – It has been replaced by televisions that measure over one hundred inches!

The point here is simply that great ideas — ideas that change people's attitudes and habits, and that can fundamentally alter your own industry – often come from the most unexpected sources and frequently face great ridicule. A more recognized contemporary of Philo's, Albert Einstein, noted: "If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."


First, involve others in your quest for Innovation. Avoid traditional "brainstorming" activities, as they actually tend to produce both fewer and lower-quality ideas than more-focused, guided attempts at addressing specific creative needs. Invite and encourage your team, your family, your vendors, your customers and advisors to actively participate in helping discover and create the "next great idea" for your business or industry.

Second, reward them for doing so. If an employee approaches you with a potential innovation, take her out to lunch to hear all about it. Regardless of the idea's feasibility, you will have nourished the employee's desire for Innovation, and maybe her next idea will change the industry.


Here a few keys that will help jump-start the process and make it simpler for you:

Involve and reward others. Trying to do the job alone often leads to frustration, missed opportunities and unfilled dreams.

Focus on affordable, soft innovation and don't fear the absurd — the goal is to be noticed and have your efforts rewarded and your innovations put into action.

Consistently execute your plan for innovation and the innovations themselves.

For help getting started, visit strategicplanet.com/aqua and take a moment to answer a few questions. The first 25 readers who do will receive a free hardcover copy of Seth Godin's best-seller Free Prize Inside! Based upon your answers, we'll also point you to innovative tools and resources specific to your needs. In addition, everyone who visits will receive a copy of Fuller/Maynes' "Welcome to Your Future" white paper.

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