How does a firm or an individual begin to use creative thinking to innovate? Laser Focus!
First, understand that innovation isn’t always about inventing products using new technology. Thousands of successful products or services are used in a radically different manner than originally intended; the result… INNOVATIVE new positions for old products. My rule is that innovation either offer solutions that make money saves money, or saves time.
In these cases, real Innovation is a new method of application rather than in the unique nature of the original concept.
For example, using PROCESS INNOVATION, you may redirect your excess capacity or processes to support your most profitable products or services. Innovation is how we make money from creative thinking – we sell the idea and show others how to apply it to solve a variety of problems.
Innovation is a defined process commonly used to achieve measurable objectives. The value of innovation comes from reaching new levels of results that would not be obtained through continuous improvement identify trends and build trend spotting and competitive intelligence systems, synthesize trends and determine what the trends may mean for future business by creating scenarios.
My goal is to help organizations achieve innovation, remain viable and competitive while optimizing financial success. I often recant the statement from David Olgivy: It’s not creative unless it sells. My slight twist is It’s not innovative unless it sells or saves.
To INNOVATE, I encourage you to Think Beyond the Profits: Think “What If?”
I want to tell you about the Apple of its time: Polaroid
This is a story about a young girl’s birthday party demands and how they spawned real INNOVATION in the world of photography. Daddy, happily snapping shot after shot of her and her friends was mildly put out when his little daughter stamped her foot and demanded: “I want to see my pictures, NOW, Daddy!” Her Daddy happened to be Edward Land. Her demands started his 3D THINKING wheels turning. “Well, why can’t she have the pictures now?” The INNOVATIVE solution that came from a 5-year-old’s party was the Polaroid LAND camera.
Polaroid was the Apple of its time. Land ran the company until 1981. Its peak employment was 21,000 in 1978, and its peak revenue was $3 billion in 1991. But like Jobs, he was coerced into leaving the company and forced to resign from the board.
I was thrilled to be able to work with Edwin Land and Polaroid. In meeting after meeting with their ‘innovation team’ and Edwin Land, it was exciting as we examined new technologies and ways to continue to reinvent themselves.
I wanted to expand the use of large-format Polaroid film for professional photographers. They had invented 8×10 film in 1973, and there was nothing like it. Today, Polaroid still makes that format, by hand, to satisfy the demand. A ten-pack is $179.99 for black and white. It is developed manually and takes about 20 minutes to process. Here’s a product that has survived 46 years of change. It has no competition. It has demand and little, if any, marketing. The product is a niche item. Its DNA is founded upon the belief that if you build it, they will buy it. Polaroid, through all of it innovations failed to deliver what the market wanted.
When Land was present ‘what if,’ ‘what’s next’ were constant questions, when he left the meetings, the answers became negative, self-serving, and defeatist. Our work with Polaroid was frustrating at best. Within a few months of the departure of Land, we made a presentation to the ‘inside’ team that focused on how instant photos could be used to augment digital photography.
At that time, there was no ‘cloud’ or secure method to share photos. We suggested that a Polaroid printer could deliver ‘takeaway’ or ‘shared’ experiences. Our code name for our presentation was labeled Mission Impossible when we finished. Moreover, so were we.
Zoom ahead to 2001, and we see that Polaroid is in bankruptcy. They missed the digital revolution because they forgot the modest beginnings even though they were an early manufacturer of digital cameras, print scanners, and Polaroid Instant Home Movies.
Trying to recapture the ‘old school’ culture Polaroid is now selling vintage, refurbished Polaroids.
How could this happen? One common way is when the management of the corporation stifles creativity throughout the organization. This could be due to an overemphasis on the bottom line on a cautious approach to spending.
Centuries ago, kings and other royalty had many “yes-men” by their side. The “yes-men” played an important role; they reinforced the kings’ choices. However, the wisest kings employed fools who had special permission to make fun of and criticize the king’s policies without fear.
Today, the name Polaroid has been sold to a marketing company that used the well-known name to sell televisions, sunglasses, mobile speakers, large format printers, t-shirts, beanies, mugs, tote bags, and more.
When the original Polaroid Corporation was declared bankrupt in 2001, its brand and assets were sold off. The “new” Polaroid formed as a result, and itself declared bankruptcy in 2008, resulting in a further sale and the present-day Polaroid Corporation. In 2017, its parent company was acquired by Polish investor Oskar Smołokowski.
On August 7.2019 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Grand Canyon National Park, Retrospekt and the Parks Project teamed up to release a limited edition, refurbished Polaroid 600 analog instant camera. The camera features artwork inspired by the park’s centennial – and proceeds from the camera go toward the Grand Canyon Conservancy, which is dedicated to providing premier guided educational programs about the natural and cultural history of the region. Polaroid has returned to its roots. Instantly! (Nope) But at least they saw a niche, vintage, demand that only Polaroid could meet.
However, the real news is the announcement: The Polaroid Lab. They promise to transform your digital photos into real Polaroid pictures with the all-new Polaroid Lab. Not a printer, not a scanner, just an instant formula for timeless images. You take a photo with your smartphone and place it on top of the lab. It then takes another photo and processes it on Polaroid film. I ask you…Is the Polaroid Lab innovative? Is there a demand?
With the cloud sharing, email, and text attachments why would you want to buy a lab, buy the film and then have a lower resolution copy? Is there a large market for ‘instant analog photos’ from ‘instant digital photos’?
It occurs to me with example after example of real INNOVATION that develops because people recognize a need that can be met and, “IF ONLY…… WHAT IF?” are part of their vocabulary. Perhaps we all need to think more like a child and imagine that we can have that picture now. ?
Present-day CEOs have “yes-men,” but they are in dire need of someone to give them an honest opinion, someone who can tell those in the royal boardroom that the old ways are no longer valid, and that innovation is how to make money. Creativity thinking goes hand-in-hand with the courage to embrace the new and innovative. However, how do we do that?
All companies have to find new ways to be profitable.
The challenge, of course, is to overcome the misconceptions surrounding innovation to make innovation a cultural phenomenon which can be enhanced or inhibited by leaders, culture, and strategy. There is a perception that change is a threat to the status quo, to the existing business models and strategies that typically focus on scaling up, getting a sizeable market share, and generating profits. Large companies should regularly have an innovation strategy that is aligned with their overall corporate strategy.
For most of my business life, I have observed that Innovation is often the result of random conversations COLLISIONS or DISRUPTIONS. (Did I say UBER, Airbnb, Apple) Innovation is a defined process commonly used to achieve measurable objectives. My role is to accelerate those collisions.
The value of innovation comes from achieving new levels of results that would not be obtained through continuous improvement identify trends and build trend spotting and competitive intelligence systems, synthesize trends and determine what the trends may mean for future business by creating scenarios.
My goal is to help organizations achieve innovation, remain viable and competitive while optimizing financial success.
Having a leader in innovation is an essential part of having an innovation culture. A distinct innovation leader further establishes clear accountability for fulfilling the innovation strategy and ensures that innovation remains a priority.
Small companies often don’t have an innovation strategy which will be detrimental to their future innovation success. Innovation should be dedicated but not insulated to leverage cross-functional resources.
How does your organization think about how to shift from business as usual to Innovation As Usual? Business, as usual, stymies innovation by overly focusing the organization on efficient business processes and meeting short term demands, and by commanding the attention of the middle management cohort to the exclusion of creating new things.
Embrace Innovative “Disasters”
Innovation can occur where you least expect it. Imagine a scientist is trying to produce a super-fast glue. He tries and tries, but the glue does not stick. His product is a complete disaster. Alternatively, is it? Every office in the world now has glue that does not stick in the traditional way. If the scientist had rethought the meaning of stick… perhaps he needed to redefine the question. “How do I join two things together quickly?” The scientist, who worked at 3M, had just invented the raw material for the PostIt® note. While using it for a different purpose, he created a new solution. The PostIt® note is now one of the most profitable products at 3M.
Even Christopher Columbus, one of the great innovators of his time, could not have been much further from his intended destination of India when he discovered America. However, that “disaster” delivered to the civilized world what we now regard as the land of opportunity.
Look for Inspiration Everywhere
Think creatively everywhere. (You can start the process by asking WHAT IF….) Think when you are out walking when you are in the shower when you are listening to a boring speaker. Switch your mind off and think about that problem that has been bugging you. Don’t bother with contrived brainstorming sessions and working parties, because you cannot plan to create on-demand. However, you can organize your mind to be always receptive to new ideas wherever you happen to be.
Here’s an innovative example of what I mean:
In 1941, a scientist went hunting with his dog. When he arrived home, he found that wood-burs were stuck to his woolen jacket and trousers. He was fascinated with the burrs ability to grab hold of his clothing so tenaciously and decided to examine them to find out WHY. Carefully inspecting the burs under a microscope, he found hundreds of little hooks engaging the loops in the material. The scientist, George de Mestral, made a machine to duplicate the hooks and loops in nylon. He called his new product, Velcro, and the rest is history.
Today, thousands of uses for Velcro® Fasteners exist, in both personal use and industry. This is all thanks to a man hunting with his dog in the mountains who was willing to ask WHAT IF… and followed it to where it led him.
The only problem with thinking everywhere is that we often don’t have a way to record our ideas when they come to us. Then we forget. Then someone one else hit on the same purpose, and it’s too late. The solution is to keep a pen and paper handy in every room of the house, especially by your bed and near the shower. When you are driving, use a dictating machine in the car. This way, you can archive your thoughts before you forget them.
Long-range innovative/strategic planning predicts future conditions and realities, internal and external, and plans how the organization can function effectively within them. Because it involves multi-year projections, it cannot be as specific as short-term or operational planning, which generates a work plan with detailed annual objectives, tasks, methods, timelines, and responsibilities.
However, it tends to be more focused on specific objectives and timelines than strategic planning.
1) Goals-based strategic planning is probably the most common and starts with a focus on the organization’s mission (and vision and/or values), goals to work toward the mission, strategies to achieve the goals, and action planning (who will do what and by when).
2) Issues-based strategic planning often starts by examining issues facing the organization, strategies to address those issues, and action plans.
3) Organic strategic planning might start by articulating the organization’s vision and values, and then action plans to achieve the vision while adhering to those values. Some planners prefer a particular approach to planning, e.g., appreciative inquiry.
Some plans are scoped to one year, many to three years, and some to five to ten years into the future. Some ideas include only important information and no action plans. Some ideas are five to eight pages long, while others can be considerably longer
So even though the results you get may not be what you expected, continue to think creatively, and the product of that process will be INNOVATION. Disasters can sometimes become rare opportunities, and unintended results may very well bring you an unexpected gift.
Instant Take Away and Actionable Inquiries
Unsuccessful companies describe their innovation culture as
Successful companies define their innovation culture as
1. Is there a significant problem that customers can’t address because existing solutions are expensive or inconvenient? Is there a high-potential job to be done?
2. Is there a disruptive way to solve the problem in a more straightforward, more convenient, or more affordable way?
3. Is there a plausible hypothesis about an economically attractive, scalable business model? (Answering this question doesn’t require a detailed financial model, but it does need a sensible story that’s at least conceivable – and a plan to turn that hypothesis into reality.)
4. Does the team have the right stuff to course-correct according to in-market learning?
(Remember, the odds are high that the first idea isn’t quite right. A team that is dogmatic and keeps trying to prove it is right is the wrong team for many innovation efforts.)
5. Can early profitability be a choice? (Ultimate success requires a profitable model. The sooner there is a line of sight to profits, the better.)
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