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CNNMoney on Innovation: Too Simplistic February 27, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Retailer Store Strategies.
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David DirksThe headline on this CNNMoney posting dated February 26th, 2009 read, “On sale: Your brillant invention”.  The gist of this article is that some businesses, particularly retailers and some manufacturers, are scrambling to find the next ‘great product’ or invention that will help them manage their way through slow retail sales and worsening economy.  It suggests that businesses should be ‘mining the masses for fresh ideas’.  It also suggests  that you ask you customers for their ideas, which is always a good start.

But do you know what I call this?  I call it ‘drive-by-innovation’ as in ‘drive-by-shooting’.  While I applaud the note that businesses should be creating ways to innovate on services and products they provide their customers, it leaves the reader thinking it’s easy.  It isn’t easy.  And asking your customers might make sense on one level, you miss another level entirely.

I’ve been studying innovation and the Big Dogz who do it well, both large and small, for many years now.  I can assure you that truly innovative businesses have something the others don’t: a deep and binding organizational comittment to innovation.  From top to bottom and bottom to top, innovative companies have integrated the basis for innovation deep into the culture and roots of their organization.

To think that you can haul in some customers, get some ‘ideas’, and create something someone will want to pay for is woefully too simplistic!  Yes, talking to your customers is a good place to start but only a small piece of a larger innovation pie.

The long shot here is that you’ll actually find an idea that makes sense to develop.  The next long shot is figuring out how to go from idea to actual product or service.  If innovation was as easy as asking your customers for ideas, everyone would do it, right?  Please, my head hurts from thinking about this simplistic mindset.

Surely we encourage businesses of all sizes to innovate.  A truly innovative business has the capability of generating a consistent stream of product and service innovations on a regular basis.  It has the ability to bring them to market and make a profit.

Doing anything less will leave your business and your customers wondering what went wrong.



1. traininguru - April 3, 2009

David…I agree with your comments regarding “drive-by innovation and that innovative businesses possess “a deep and binding organizational commitment to innovation.”

Interestingly, while it is great getting feedback from customers, typically such sources of ideas are not very likely to yield the next great innovative product or service. There are two ideas I’d like to share regarding how Innovation may flourish:


Al Ries, Marketing Guru points out:

“A good marketing consultant has to be aware of new trends, ideas and concepts before they get digested and published by others. Innovation is not limited to engineers and scientists. Marketing people can and should be innovative, too.

Furthermore, there is a big difference between common sense and marketing sense. Extensive reading of the business press will help a person develop good marketing sense which may be the exact opposite of common sense.

For example, it’s common sense for a company to “take care of its customers.” That’s why Saturn introduced larger, more expensive vehicles as its customers grew older, had children and became wealthier. But in the process, these moves destroyed the Saturn brand which once was the most successful “entry-level” car.

Last year, for example, Saturn with five major product lines sold fewer vehicles than when the company was focused on a single entry-level model.

A good marketing person will follow the Saturn story over the years and ask, Why are Saturn sales falling when the brand itself is expanding?”

Clearly, focusing on a unique differentiating factor (great entry level car) is a marketing strategy that is innovative…it’s a category that Saturn owned until it extended the line.

See: http://www.tomhcanderson.com/2009/01/29/al-ries-talks-to-tom-h-c-anderson-about-marketing/


Traditional transactional, or “command and control” approaches to leadership are no longer effective, particularly in light of competitive pressures and the global economy. The challenges and opportunities include:

• Coping with the speed of inter-related international events and crises, including the speed of technology
• Managing and leading in the growing complexity of a global society
• Managing in light of increasing competitive global pressures
• Becoming more adaptable and flexible in creating, accepting, and adapting to change
• Maintaining a vision that incorporates people from different perspectives and inspires high performance
• Attaining and maintaining market leadership position to sustain a competitive advantage and achieve goals and objectives.

When an organizational culture adopts transformational leadership, Senior Management will more readily connect with employees; assist them in aligning their work in terms of the organization’s overall objectives—resulting in dramatically improved employee commitment, motivation, and significantly increased participation.

Transformational Leaders:

1. Display convictions, take stands and appeal to followers on an emotional level

2. Have a clear set of values, are role models, articulate a vision that is appealing and inspiring to followers; challenge followers with high standards; communicate optimism about future goal attainment and provides meaning for the task at hand.

3. Challenge assumptions, takes risks and solicit follower’s ideas. Leaders with this trait stimulate and encourage creativity and initiative in their followers.

4. Attend to each follower’s needs, act as a mentor or coach to the follower and listen to the follower’s concerns and needs. This also encompasses the need to respect and celebrate the individual contribution that each follower can make to the team (it is the diversity of the team that gives it its true strength).

Diversity is NOT what HR departments tend to construe as its meaning…it’s less about race, ethnic origin and whatever quotas are supposed to be met…it’s more about the distinctiveness of ideas and perspectives.

Innovation or lack thereof is directly linked with the Leadership/Management dynamic of an organization.

Transformational Leadership removes many of the barriers to fostering innovation, thereby unleashing an innovation engine into the culture.

If Organizational Leadership sets the proper tone, management and the rest of the workforce will drive innovation most effectively.

John A. Fallone

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