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On Being “Creative” October 27, 2011

Posted by David Dirks in Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz.
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“People who earn the label ‘creative’ are really just people who come up with more combination of ideas, finding interesting ones faster, and are willing to try them out.  The problem is that most schools and organizations train us out of these habits.”  (Scott Berkun as interviewed by Guy Kawasaki in his excellent book, Reality Check).

For as much time as we all seem to spend trying to get to the essence of innovation in ideas, products, services, or whatever, it really does come down to being willing to mix and match different ideas, concepts, thoughts, and experiences and culling out of that process the best creative ideas.  The reality though is that not everyone has that ‘mix & match’ mentality built into their thinking processes.  I also think there are a couple of important components to what Berkum noted.

We can fall victim to our own experiences…good, bad or indifferent.  Being able to step out of your own viewpoint is not easy to do but vital if you want to get beyond the concreteness of your own perceptions on any subject.  By training, we try to put every idea and thought into a category box that we think it fits in.

There is creativity in numbers (but not too many).   The power of one is never better than the power of many but you can over do that like anything else.  Over the years, I’ve found that a rule of thumb for creative problem solving is at least 5 but no more than 10.  And when you can pick a team, pick from a variety of backgrounds and areas of knowledge.  Variety is the spice of creative and innovative thinking.

Defining the problem or challenge clearly and concisely a must.  We’ve all been in those meetings where we are trying to tackle a problem but keep going in circles, never quite getting at the kernel of an idea that could potentially lead to a workable solution.  In most cases, the cause for this cluster is a lack of problem definition.

Capture every kernel of an idea or thought.  I’m a big flip-chart guy.  Put me in a room with people and flip chart and I’m capturing thoughts, ideas, and anything else that moves in that room.  It doesn’t’ have to be neat.  You can always go and sort things out later.  But capture as much input as develops during the course of the discussion….AND DON’T EDIT.  Make sure you are capturing the thoughts and ideas of others in the context they mean it in…instead of slanting it in the context you want.  After a problem solving type meeting, I like nothing better than going back to my office and paper my walls with the charts and just stare at them for a while over a few days.  That’s when ideas start to form and gel.

Prototype and test.  Fast.  Berkun notes, “The best bet is to be an experimenter, a tinkerer — to learn to try out ideas cheaply and quickly and to get out there with people instead of fantasizing in ivory towers.”

Look, there’s no ‘secret sauce’ to creativity and innovation…just plenty of hard work & trial and error.  That’s why we love to solve problems, isn’t it?

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.

Beating A Recession – 12: Blow Up the Brick & Mortar! February 23, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, e-Small Business Resources, Increasing Your Profitability, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksWant to save a significant amount of annual expense and increase your profitability…and lower your cost of goods and services so you can remain competitive?  Sure you do.  However, many of us are still married to the concept of having a retail or service space to conduct business. I’m challenging that right here and now.

First, instead of investing dollars in ‘brick and mortar’ retail or service space, invest heavily in transferring your ‘place of business assets’ to your website and create an intranet that allows your employees to work remotely.

The growing trend is for businesses to move their infrastructure investments into creating a better user experience on the web and being able to conduct their business via the web.  Invest and make your website so customer-friendly and seamless to use (navigation and purchase-orientations) that you no longer relay on a ‘physical’ presence in order to be able to conduct business.

Case in point.  I have a friend of mine who recently decided to close down her retail shop that sold hiking and camping equipment.  It wasn’t too long ago that she had expanded her ‘brick and mortar’ presence to increase her retail space.  Then the economy took a hit and gas prices jumped.  She then decided to close the retail business.  However, she didn’t give up.  She had maintained that retail space for over 10 years and had built up relationships with her customers, who were both local and national.  She already had a pretty good website that contained excellent information of value to her customer base.  On top of that, she and her husband have a gigantic amount of expertise (intellectual capital) built up based on years of experience in the outdoors.  Why waste those assets just because the retail space was bleeding the business?

So she decided to invest time into expanding their website so that customers were still able to come and tap into their expertise and knowledge but also make purchases on the web. She is in the process of transforming her business onto the web and creating a customer experience that made them popular for many years.  Note: She’s still refining the website to her satisfaction so I promised her that I wouldn’t reveal it.  Once she is operational, you’ll hear about it via this blog.

Before you say, “So what? Isn’t everybody doing that?”…the answer is no, few local business invest in creating a robust and powerful web vehicle to sell their expertise and products.

Sure, most businesses have a website (and there are a bunch that still don’t!) but the website was usually built as cheaply as possible.  Some are just awful and look like they were pasted on construction paper then slapped on the web (I wouldn’t bother then).

Here are a few things I want you to consider, even though it might creep you out to think of operating your business from your website:

1.  Can I sell what I’m selling now without having to carry the burden of a retail or office space? The common reaction is, “what?  and have no place for my customers to touch and feel the product?”.  Yup…that’s exactly right.

Let’s say you own a health food store.  Banishing the ‘brick and mortar’ seems like a trick, right?  I’m mean, customers are used to coming in and asking you what you recommend for this or that issue that affects them, right?  People like the personal service and the expertise you might have in the area of health foods and herbs that are designed to help with an ailment of some kind.

What if you could create that same personalized experience on your website?  What if you had the ability for people to ask you the same questions in realtime…both online and the phone?  You could ‘chat’ with them and make a few product recommendations.  Then they can purchase your goods either right from your easy to use and super secure website or via phone order.

2. Let’s take a shot at a service based business. No products but selling services.  Let’s say you are a CPA and have a few partners with some additional specialty accountants on the staff.  Most firms of this description would rather jump in front of a moving bus before giving up the office space.  What are they spending on space?  $3,000…$5,000 a month? Whatever it is, it’s a pretty hefty sum and doesn’t include the utility bills, liability insurance, etc.  that tack on additional expense.

Who said you have to carry expensive office space?  You do.  However, I’ll bet most of your business is conducted by phone and you probably meet them at their place of business for the face-to-face meetings that are needed (and sometimes necessary).  But what if you invested instead on the infrastructure that allowed your partners and other expert staff to work from the comfort of their own homes?  Shocking, huh?  I understand that nervous twitch you just got from the thought but I have to tell you that this kind of transfer of ‘conduct of business’ is already underway.

Listen folks, the technology is already here that allows you to work remotely and securely from any location that has access to high-speed internet.

What I’m suggesting here is that you close down your offices and work from a distributive environment.  Need to house files?  Sure.  You could still maintain some dramatically limited office space if you need to house phyisical files?  But what if you optically scanned those docs and made them available on a securely-accessed site, so you peeps could still work?  Yes you can.

I’m hard pressed to find too many businesses that couldn’t make this change from ‘brick and mortar’ retail or office space to a web-based, distributive work environment.

Let’s take a quick look at just a few of the key advantage:

1.  Dramatically reduced expenses (after an initial investment for upgrading your distributive work environment and your website experience) means you have more capital to work.  Freeing up cashflow is critical in any economy, let alone this one we’re in now.

2.  Lower operating expenses means you can re-direct those funds to build up cash reserves, lower you cost of goods/services, hire more people, and expand your product/service offerings without worrying about the cost of doing these same expansions with the limitations of the usual retail or office space.  Note: unless you can arrange drop shipping directly from the manufacturer or distributor of your products, you will of course need to access some physical storage space for warehousing and distribution of product to customers.  Usually that kind of space requirement is far less expensive to maintain than a premium retail space.

3.  No geographic limitations anymore.  Wow.  This is my favorite one of all.  The infrastructure investments you make to create a website that is customer-centric, user-friendly and seamlessly allows people to buy from you means you can do business any where in the world.  Think of that kind of website married to a distributive work environment takes the shackles off your ‘local’ business.  You’re not local anymore.

4.  You can now take the infrastructure savings of reduced or eliminated reliance on ‘brick and mortar’ and apply that to a powerful and robust marketing budget to expand both your ‘local’ and web-wide ability to sell products and services.

Take a white sheet paper out and begin thinking through how you could design a way to conduct business without the ‘brick and mortar’.  Force yourself to think it through with the attitude of “How can I do this” versus “How many excuses for not doing it can I come up with?”.

In succeeding postings we’ll take a look at some businesses that have been doing just this…and doing it well.

Innovation in the Newspaper Business – 1 February 7, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in Increasing Your Profitability, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksFor quite some time now, I’ve been watching and musing over the struggle that the newspaper publishing business is going through.  Craigslist has usurped the leading role  of providing classified advertising that the newspaper once held.  They’ve done that by providing free classified ads that actually work.  They are geographically specific and apparently people read them…online that is.

Is online the answer?  Well, I’m not so sure about that in the sense that newsprint websites haven’t solved the revenue and profitability issues…at least not yet.  I was talking to a friend of mine recently who was on the mark when he said: newspapers had a huge window of opportunity to get into the web business years ago but they by and large left it behind.  It was a big window of opportunity that has since been taken over by blogs and other free portals to news like CNN, CNBC, and the like with their online websites.

What’s left?  Well, I think the win in publishing is this: don’t look for a big hit to bring revenues and profitability home.  Everybody seems bent in the industry to find the holy grail that will revitalize the publishing business model.  I have news for you: there is no such thing as a ‘big hit’ here.  The victory in the newspaper business I believe will come from incremental successes.  The victory will be many pieces of the revenue puzzle all coming together to create a healthier publishing model for the newspaper business.

What incremental pieces?  Already in play is the newspaper website that is tightly integrated with the print version and produces some level of revenues.  The cost to publish online should in fact be quite minimal compared to the infrastructure necessary to print a paper.  Selling advertising on both platforms has been well underway for a while now.  Not enough to rebuild the business model but important nonetheless.

What else can you sell if you’re in the newspaper business?  Try this one on for size: CONTENT.  Newspapers produce a ton of content daily, weekly, etc.  The current business model is publish today and forget tomorrow. 

There is always some excellent journalism that gets forgotten and never reused in any purposeful way as soon as the next edition hits the newstands.

Purposefully repackaging selected content is another way to create increment revenues and profits.  You already paid for journalists to create the copy that drives the content.  Why not get additional mileage from it?

How?  How about creating and selling special hard and softcover editions of specialized topics?  What editions?  How about “The HS Sports Year in Review 2008”?  Or “The Year in Review 2009 for (name your town/city here)”?  You could probably find many other specialized areas of interest that could be repackaged and sold in another format.  People like to see and hear about themselves, their local sports team,  in the newspaper?  What kid or parent wouldn’t want to buy the the “The Hudson Valley Sports Review 2008?” as a momento or gift?  With print-on-demand technology today, you don’t even need to keep a large inventory of these specialized editions.

I like the local sports repackaging.  You have basically 365 days of sports content and surely you can find enough great stories to fill a book.

You could also produce other digital products.  Many newspapers today use video to record special events and newsworthy items.  That content is repurposed mostly for the newspaper website.  But who says you can’t produce a ‘year in review’ dvd?  Same concept as the book only this time your adding live footage of sports and news events of the year…couple with some great photography.  What a great way to repackage video footage and digital photographs?  I’ll bet you could create a great ‘year in review’ just based on photography alone!

Yes, it’s the ‘Time-Life” version of repackaging great content to sell another day!

Repurpose your content.  Newspapers are great researching and writing it.  Let’s not waste the work of the excellent journalists who toil to create it.  Repackage and repurpose everything!

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Let me know your thoughts!

Beating the Recession Webinar Now Available! January 2, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in A New Webinar!, business strategy, Buzz Marketing: Lowest Cost/Highest Payoff, Increasing Your Profitability, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Public Relations Strategies, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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David DirksYou’ve asked for it and now we’re offering it…

If there was one webinar that you could attend and spend a few bucks on, this is the one.  With business conditions as they are, you can either choose to ignore it or do something about it.  This 5-hour webinar is designed to help you impact those marketing and sales issues that you can control…and there’s a lot you can control!

We’ve designed this webinar to be jam-packed with actionable marketing and sales strategies that are designed to move your business forward and keep it moving in any economy!!

For registration information, go to:


Note:  There is a significant discount for those who sign up before 1/23/09…don’t miss out on that.


Beating a Recession – 8 December 10, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksI’m always on the prowl for ideas that can help combat the economic slowdown.  Here are two that I think are more than worth considering:

  • Become a disruptor in your industry or business. Creating products, services, or processes that disrupt your competition and put them on the defensive is a sure way to create market differentiation.  As I always say, the key to any Big Dogz performance is how effectively they differentiate themselves, in a positive manner, from their competitors.  Apple’s iPhone is a great example of a disruptive product.  Who would have thought that a computer company would introduce a product platform that not only is superior to its competition, but has the ability to disrupt the entire cell phone industry?

Another excellent example is a firm called Axiom.  Axiom is a disrupter in the rather tradition-bound law field.  What makes Axiom a disrupter?  It’s how they have harnessed the internet to create a web-based law firm.  Their attorney’s do not work from dark, hardwood-paneled offices.  Rather, they work from their homes.  The Axiom model hires the best attorneys from some of the top law firms in the country and gives them the freedom to work with clients in a web-based environment.  What value do their clients get?  Well, because they have dramatically lower operating costs compared to a traditional highpowered law firm, they can offer their services at rates that can be 50% lower than those charged by traditional, office-bound law firms.

How can you create products, services, or business processes that can create disruption in your field?

  • Empower your sales team to offer discounts on products and/or services, ON THE SPOT. For most retailers and service firms, this would give you heartburn.  Just the thought of empowering your peeps to give an on the spot discount probably gives you the jeebies.  However, there is a method to this seeming madness.  Note:  I’m NOT suggesting that your sales teams ask a customer if they want a discount.  That doesn’t work.  Rather, this is about helping a client who asks about a discount (“yes, I can give you 10% if you order this today”) or is on the fence teetering in the direction of a buy and needs just a little prompting.

Empowering your sales teams to offer a specified discount (I was only using 10% as an example…you can make it whatever you can afford) cuts through the red tape and can possibly save a sale that might otherwise walk out the door.   Customers today want a ‘deal’.  Empower your people to give it to them.  When the good times were here not long ago, you might not have worried about losing those kinds of sales.  The good times are gone.  But you already knew that.

Finding Innovations for Your Business: Podcast 3 June 14, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in Big Dogz Podcasts, Creativity, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz.
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So…you understand just how innovation can help to differentiate your business from your competition. You also understand how the right innovations can lead to producing high value products or services that customers want and pay for. Now the question is, where are the sources of innovation? In this podcast, we explore a few obvious and not so obvious sources for the creative ideas you need to fuel innovation in your business. Not every great idea is a practical innovation, but you need to find the many in order to implement the few.

Listen in as Dave discusses his thoughts on resources for creating potential innovations.


Small Business Innovation: Podcast June 6, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in Big Dogz Podcasts, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz.
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Today I started a series on innovation and it’s implications on helping you grow & sustain a healthy business over the longrun in my The Big Dogz on Business” column in the Times Herald-Record (www.recordonline.com and go to the Business section).

This is the first in a series of podcasts designed to compliment the column series on innovation.  This series will cover types of innovation available to you, how to draw on the resources already at your disposal to create innovations in your business, and most importantly, how to bring those innovations to market and insure your customers and potential customers know about it.

Innovating in your business is critical, regardless of your size or the type of industry you’re in, and is here to stay.  Here’s how you can run with the big dogz and create a lasting and profitable business.

Have questions about innovation or have a success story of your own regarding innovation?  We’d like to hear about it and share it with the world!  Email me at: dirksmarketing@gmail.com


Outsourcing Product Innovation February 28, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Solving Business Problems.
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dirksphoto.jpgProcter & Gamble is clearly in the Big Dogz league and always has been. Recently, I was reading the March issue of Fast Company (www.fastcompany.com) and found an interesting article on P&G. It seems that P&G couldn’t create new products fast enough, so it decides to jump-start its product innovation process. What it ended up doing is launching its ‘Connect + Develop’ program. This program allows outside product developers to get their product innovations and designs into their pipeline. They have created a process for externally outsourcing some of their some product innovation and development.

With P&G sharing development costs and profits with outside innovators, it has gained a huge market advantage in being able to bring more products into the market than ever before.

Hmmm. How about you? Have you thought about inviting outside vendors/innovators to be part of your outsourced product/service development pipeline? How can you apply what P&G has done to reduce product development cycle times, reducing development costs, and increasing revenues and profits?

Anything is possible.

Where can I find this thing called ‘innovation’? May 17, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz.
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dirksphoto.jpgInnovation. Innovation. Innovation. Find any business magazine today and their telling you it’s all about innovation. True, like I noted in a recent post (April 23, 2007), innovation is important to business success to one degree or another. Apparently, the Big Dogz are all over this. Got to have it. Need it. Want it…badly.

Small business needs some level of innovation as well. But where does true innovation come from? How is it born? It comes from all sorts of places. For example, innovation (service or product) can come from your employees. But you won’t know it unless you ask them and take their suggestions seriously. Your competitors might be another source. What are they NOT doing that you should be in order to give more value to your customers?

Probably your best source for innovation is your customer base. Who better to tell you what you could do to improve your product or services? I don’t care what small business you’re in, you should be checking with you customers, especially your top customers, and ask them.

You could even make a contest out of it. For example, let’s say you’re a small, regional manufacturer of fishing lures for bass (ok…I’m a fishing nut too!). Why not hold a contest for the most innovative and fish-catching lure design? You could award a series of prizes for the best designs that actually catch fish. And think of all the free publicity you’d have! Outdoor editors would eat this story up!

Or you could bring several top customers to an ‘invitation-only’ dinner event where part of the evening is spent discussing your products/services and how to improve them.

If you have a service business, your innovation might be in how you package and deliver those services to you customers. What if you could deliver your services via internet? Your customers might tell you how to package or bundle your services for more effective use and delivery.

Product or service innovations can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The key is to always be on the look out for those innovations that your customers will desire.

Customers don’t buy product or service innovations just because they are available. You’ll keep your customers coming back for more if you tap into their ideas on improving the products/services you offer and they use.

When was the last time you were asked by a small business owner for your suggestions/ideas on product or service improvements? You haven’t? See, there’s the opportunity.