Who says innovation has to be difficult? While game-changing breakthrough technologies and new scientific discoveries tend to hog media headlines, it bears remembering: Evolutionary changes (slight shifts in business strategy or thinking) can often be every bit as powerful as revolutionary advancements, no matter what industry you and your organization call home.
All too often, at the pace today’s market moves and the scale on which market leaders operate, we forget that frequently all it takes to get ahead is just a minor shift in tactics or perspective. For example:
Facing down increasing competition and growingly oversaturated neighborhood markets, big-box retailer Target didn’t open more super-sized stores in suburban locales. Instead, the company launched pint-sized City Target stores in fast-growing (and fast-moving) cities that sold household items in smaller sizes—and equipped salespeople with mobile scanners to make it easy for customers to enjoy storewide checkouts. The concept proved so successful that Target quickly doubled the number of these locations nationwide. Target also dropped the “City” branding, making these half-sized locations a standard part of its core retail strategy.
When medical device leader Medtronic wanted to expand its already successful business throughout Western Europe and beyond? It didn’t double down on cutting-edge devices. Medtronic reinvented its business model instead, expanding its offerings to include clinical and consulting services and establishing new business units that partnered to put owned-and-operated labs inside hospitals. Not only has Medtronic increased its business, but it has provided partners with significant improvements in customer service and cost-savings by doing so. Having earned their trust, the company has also built a sizable business around ancillary services such as supply chain management and performance benchmarking.
After sales started falling on drugstore chain Walgreens, the company didn’t bump up ad spending or start offering more paid incentives. Instead, it asked its executives to rethink the chain’s approach to customer care. Strategies included bringing pharmacists out from behind the counter to offer counseling services and building API middleware tools that let third-party developers create hundreds of apps that let patients order from its 8000+ pharmacies. Sales rapidly recovered.
When French telecom giant Orange wanted to double the size of its innovation initiatives but didn’t want to invest millions in R&D or hordes of high-priced working professionals? It decided to outsource the entire process, and offered APIs—plug-and-play back-end software solutions—both to internal employees and external developers so that they could create new uses for Orange’s technologies. Using just one of these solutions, the company has been able to seamlessly integrate social and second-screen experiences from hundreds of film and TV companies into many of its services in under a year.
When Newell Rubbermaid’s Contigo brand wanted to find a way to differentiate its products in the hugely-crowded and -contested market for portable containers and cups? It didn’t invest a fortune into dozens of abortive product roll-outs, attempting to guess what working professionals on the go would want. It simply studied today’s busiest travel sites, where commuters tended to congregate and, after discovering that passengers were constantly wiping off their mugs’ mouth guards on napkins, sleeves, and handkerchiefs, Contigo introduced a new line of travel mugs with special covers designed to keep out dirt.
And when MasterCard needed a new idea for a mobile payment app? It simply put the call out to employees at Innovation Express, a global series of hackathon events where businesspeople, designers and software developers team up to create new business plans and products in record time. Two days later, Qkr, which can let you order food from your seat at a stadium or preorder school lunches for children right from your pocket without ever setting foot in a cafeteria, was born.
While it’s not always obvious to the casual observer, innovation is far easier than you think. All it takes to successfully outmaneuver the competition or overcome a problem is simply a greater sense of perspective and greater willingness to be more creative with how you apply the tools at hand.
Award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is a bestselling expert on leadership and innovation and the author of Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty. Among today’s leading providers of keynote speeches, workshops and seminars for Fortune 500 firms, his website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.