I just heard a public service announcement for the Highway Patrol. You’ve heard it before – “This is trooper B. R. Jones reminding you that speed kills. Slow down this holiday weekend. Yadda, yadda.
Anyone that has driven on Germany’s autobahn can tell you that speed is not the enemy. When you are driving along at 130-140 kph and an Audi zooms by you like you’re sitting still, you get a whole new appreciation for “speed” and you totally understand it is NOT speed that kills. The statistics prove it: Germany’s fatality rate is nearly half that of the U.S.
It’s not complicated. When you’re driving with your knees while holding a coffee cup in one hand and a donut in the other while talking on you bluetooth and answering texts, sooner or later, you’re gonna die. In Germany, it is illegal to even use a cell phone while driving, but I promise you, when you are on the autobahn, you are focused on one thing and one thing only…driving. It’s a matter of self preservation. You take your eyes off the road for a millisecond and you are in trouble. In reality, increased speed results in better driving. It’s distractions, lack of concentration, apathy and downright stupidity that kills, and that is the problem officer Jones should be discussing.
But that’s not really the point of this blog post.
It is this kind of (speed kills) thinking that kills innovation. Conventional wisdom says it’s not “logical” or “practical” to do something, and we immediately drop an otherwise great idea and miss an opportunity to solve a problem or create something new. It’s only when we question the status quo that we create. It’s only when we embrace counter-intuitive thinking that we open doors. Next time you hear something that sounds like conventional thinking, challenge it. You’ll be amazed what you will find.
It’s clear. A company needs a vision. It has to know where it’s going, why it’s going, and it needs a plan to get there. Without purpose and passion though, a vision is just words on paper…a body without a soul. This is what separates the great companies from the good ones.
JohnDeere was a blacksmith in the 1830s and he built a new kind of plow to help the local farmers cut through the soil better. He envisioned a company that would supply midwestern farmers with reliable, affordable equipment. That simple vision was backed up by a passion for excellence that has driven his company for over 185 years. Reliability is so completely ingrained in the company and its culture, that no one questions the statement “nothing runs like a deere” because nothing does.
While Steve Jobs has been hailed as the greatest visionary of our times, it was his passion not his vision that made Apple the number one brand in the world. He was determined to build “insanely great products” and his never ending search for the next great product drove him and the company to greatness.
Though separated by 150 years, Deere and Jobs had a lot in common. While their competitors were busy copying their ideas and building tractors and computers, Deere and Jobs were busy looking for better solutions to their customers problems.
That’s what innovators do. They are never satisfied with just building more stuff or making more money. The focus is always on the customer, the customer’s needs and solving the next big problem…passionately.
I was taking a morning walk around the marina in New Bern the other day. Lots of folks were out for their morning coffee. There were joggers, walkers, talkers… It was a busy, summer morning and I encountered what seemed like an unusual number of attractive ladies. As they approached, each one broke into a huge smile, slowed down and said “good morning”, “so cute”, “awwww”. And not a single one was looking at my eyes. No, they were looking at Poppi, my daughter’s six year old YorkiePoo. Or maybe she’s a Pookie since she is more poodle than yorkie.
To be fair, Poppi is extremely cute and she has never met a stranger. Never. And she still acts like she’s three months old. But seriously, am I invisible? Shouldn’t I get a nod or something?
The answer, of course, is no.
People like what they like and ladies like cute little dogs way more than they like the cute little dog walkers. (That is, walkers of cute dogs.)
Too much of today’s marketing ignores this fundamental fact. People want what they want, even if they don’t know what they want. Too much of today’s marketing simply says “look at me, look at me” instead of just being so doggone irresistible that the buyer can’t help but look. Now, it’s not easy to be irresistible (unless your name is Poppi). It takes hard work to create an offering that cuts through the clutter and strikes a chord with the buyer. It takes effort to craft a message that speaks to the issues that the customer cares most about.
Take the time, do it right and it’s like walking around with a cute dog on a leash…only better.
I was in Cincinnati recently and saw a sign that intrigued me…. Doughby’s – Calzones, Crepes, and More. My wife loves crepes, so I thought I might pick one up on the way back to the hotel. As I got closer, I saw another sign…for sale. Doughby’s was out of business. No crepes today, so I ambled down the street to join my friends at the Hang Over Easy (HOE, for short). The breakfast was spectacular. The place was packed.
It’s easy, actually. When the Doughby team got together, they had an idea. It probably started with a great calzone. College kids love calzones. (They are one block from University of Cincinnati.) And then someone said, “Let’s sell crepes, too. They’re made with dough. ” And before you could say holy mozzarella, they had a menu that included calzones, crepes, wings, salads, cookies, and more.
Doughby’s mistake was trying to be everything for everyone. You can’t do it. You have to declare a position. You have to be proud of it. You have to own it and live it. Saying “we have everything” is the same as saying “we have nothing”. Plus, the idea that you’re making a calzone right next to my banana/nutella crepe is just plain creepy. Italy and France just don’t belong together. Chicken and waffles? That’s different.
Hang Over Easy, on the other hand, offers an easy reason to believe. They keep it simple (breakfast and lunch anytime) and they promise a big, hearty hunk of comfort food to make your hangover “easy”, if that’s your problem. If you just like comfort food, that’s okay, too.
Hang Over Easy actually offers more by promising less.
And because of that, they are making a lot of dough…a lot more than Doughby’s.
I can now watch every game in the NCAA Tournament on my iPhone or iPad or Computer. It’ free. It’s easy
and it’s innovation…in a retro kind of way.
This is BIG. Imagine an entertainment model where the product is delivered absolutely free to the viewer and it is paid for with advertising. Imagine the conversations at the NCAA and CBS when someone suggested such a radical idea. Imagine the BGO (blinding glimpse of the obvious) moment when someone said, “Hey, didn’t we used to do this with broadcast tv?”
OR we can make it hard.
Try to watch live TV on your phone right now. You download the apps, log into your cable or satellite account (if you can remember how), answer a magic question, enter a magic code while whistling the national anthem and standing on one foot. This was somebody’s idea of how to “allow” us to use our mobile devices to watch TV. And, by the way, you can only watch the latest episode or two, maybe.
Along comes the NCAA saying “We want more people watching the games. Why can’t they watch them in the airport, or in the back seat of the car, or sitting on the couch?” BAM! We got games. All of ‘em. I watched four games last weekend, on my phone, while riding on a train.
Or we can make it easy.
Somebody said, “Let’s make it easy and maybe more people will watch more. More people means more eyeballs, which means happier advertisers.” And that’s innovation. Give people what they want and they will reward you. I predict the highest viewership ever for the NCAA Tourney and I predict that this “broadcast” model can work right along side the “pay per view” model.
If the networks will just wake up and let it happen.
There’s only one problem with the March Madness thing.
Carolina is out and I’m losing interest. I am, however, ready for next year.
Every MBA school in America will tell you the importance of a 5 year plan. You have to have a clear vision of where you are headed, where your business will be, and what it will LOOK like five years from now. How many employees, how many customers, what kind of product mix? You have to have vision.
Five years from now is 2020. So, do you have 2020 vision? Is it enough?
I’ll bet Motorola had a five year plan. So did Sears and Palm and General Motors and Eastern Airlines and they probably all had 5 year committees and strategy teams, too.
The problem with most five year plans is they often fail to take into account the most important and unpredictable factor in the equation – the customer. The customer doesn’t have a five year plan. The customer wants what she wants, when she wants it, and as soon as somebody offers her a better widget, she’s going to want that new widget. Now. Your plans be damned. Bean counters and MBAs spend countless hours plotting strategies to maximize profits, streamline performance, and increase ROI assuming the future is going to look very much like the present.
Henry Ford said if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said “A faster horse.” He was right of course. His five year plan was not to build a car. It was to build a better mode of personal transportation. The result was a car.
No, real visionaries aren’t looking at their balance sheet in five years, they are looking at their customers now and how they might make their lives better in five years. The companies that lead year after year are the companies that focus on innovation… creative solutions to their customers’ problems. Those companies see change happening before it happens, usually because they are creating the change. The companies that aren’t innovating see the changes too late and find their business model, as well as their five year plans, irrelevant and obsolete.
The old saying goes “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”…implying that all you have to do is find a better way of doing something and you’ll be a successful innovator.
Lots of better solutions fail everyday and they fail for two basic reasons: #1 – They aren’t really solutions. #2 – The marketing focuses on the “new and shiny” and neglects the customer’s needs.
Of course you don’t. The problem is NOT that you need to catch the little critters. The problem is that you don’t want them in your house at all. A truly better solution is the one that keeps the mice out in the first place. A cat, for instance, or a patch in the wall, or mouse repellant, or mouse poison are all better solutions for keeping the mice out.
True innovation gets to the root of the problem and offers a solution that is more than new and improved. It looks at the problem from a different perspective and offers something that makes the jobs easier, faster, better, cheaper, or whatever matters most to the end user.
If you want to innovate in your business, you have to start with your customer’s problems. Understand them, solve them and you will find innovation. Then and only then, are you ready to go to market.
We’ll talk about how you market that innovation next time.
No doubt about it, innovation is the buzzword of the decade, maybe the century. From Amazon to Zappos, innovation abounds and companies strive to emulate, replicate, and instigate it. The latest, disturbing trend is the Department of Innovation and the inevitable VP of Innovation. There are 7628 listings on Indeed.com that include the word “innovation” in the title or job description. Likewise, Linkedin.com.
“We need it. We don’t know what it is, but we gotta have it so let’s put somebody in charge of it.” I’ve heard it more times than I can count and I am convinced this may be the absolute fastest way to go out of business. An entire company will sit around waiting for the “VP of I” to hand down insights and revelations. Not even Steve Jobs could handle that kind of pressure. The greatest, most innovative companies are not led by “innovators”. They are led by people who inspire innovation while demanding excellence and focus.
Innovation doesn’t come from a department, and rarely does it spring from a single person. It comes from a commitment to problem-solving. Companies that are committed to solving their customers’ problems always find ways to innovate, sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose. The point is, they are always looking for opportunities to innovate. 3M and Proctor and Gamble rarely make the headlines, but they get it, and that’s why they’ve excelled as long as they have.
So, don’t tell your team that you’ve decided to become an innovation organization. Instead, get everyone to start identifying and solving customer problems all the time. Create a culture of innovation. (Just don’t call it that.) The ideas will flow, the solutions will come, and your customers will recognize and reward the effort.
This is a story about the little things. The little things that solve little problems that give customers what they want and bring success to the little thing innovator. Hewlett-Packard had great success with the handheld calculator but they did NOT invent the handheld calculator. That honor belongs to Texas Instruments. The first calculator was big and bulky and cost $2500.
That was 1967. By the 70’s, Hewlett-Packard and others had knocked off the idea and the price had dropped to about $75. Bill Hewlett was talking with the ad team of Dick Orkin and Bert Berdis about an ad campaign to sell more calculators. They asked “What makes your product special?” He replied, “Nothing. They all perform the same functions. They all cost about the same. Nothing.” And then he said, “…we do have one little thing. The problem with other calculators is that they are slick on the bottom and slide across your desk when you punch the keys. We added four little rubber feet to keep ours from sliding.”
Orkin and Berdis sat down on the curb outside Hewlett’s office and created a radio commercial that focused on the sliding problem and the little rubber feet. Sales of H-P calculators went through the roof. Those little rubber feet didn’t add 2 cents to the cost of the product but solved a serious problem that mattered to customers. The little innovation, and the marketing that went with it, made the difference for H-P.
Every problem is an opportunity for innovation. Solve the problem, tell people about it, and you’ll be a star.
Simon Sinek in Start With Why says innovation is revolutionary. It changes industries, changes the way we do things. According to Sinek, innovation is a BIG DEAL. He is right. And he is wrong.
Innovation is a big deal about 2 percent of the time. 98 percent of the time though, innovation goes unnoticed by most of the world. Most innovations are small, simple ideas that by themselves, don’t make a big difference. (more…)