May 27, 2021
This week, I was reminded of a story of a young man who was allegedly terminated, for innovating, by a company that touts industry leading innovation as a key differentiator and, indeed, one of their core values. This young man was innovating his heart out, seeking new ways to make the company’s core business (which is hardly exciting) relatable to young consumers then isolating on novel communication channels to reach them, engage them and convert them to customers. Much of his innovative activities were done on his own time, adding to the investment and personal commitment he was making in and to his employer and their future success. For his trouble, he was let go. See, as is too often the case, old-school organizations love to talk about innovation, they even name the streets they live on after it, but if the creative energy doesn’t fit within the prescribed development plans of the establishment, the old guard will trample it to the ground. It happens every day. It’s precisely what happened to the young man I’m referring to. But what these innovation killers forget is that innovation isn’t found in state-of-the-art laboratories or better, faster technology. Innovation flows from the one thing that can never be duplicated – people.
And that’s the point for the week.
Change the shape of your packaging. Change the chemistry of your product to enable some consumer benefit. Offer 10 new varieties that your competitors don’t yet have. None of these things are truly innovative. Because they are all easily copied. In the “anything you can do, I can do better” age of corporate competition, things are quickly duplicated. Have you ever wondered why every mid-size cross-over vehicle looks almost exactly like every other mid-size cross-over vehicle? It’s because feature-based “innovation” is fleeting. Industry firsts are industry standards in mere months. But what can never be duplicated are people who love what they do and who constantly look for new ways to share that love with their customers.
But expect the unorthodoxed. Because that’s the point. These people march to the beat of an entirely different drummer. The beat that those who don’t buy from you yet also march to. These people are true innovators for they represent not what things are plus a couple extra cupholders, but what things can be when the status quo is smashed under foot for want of something new and truly innovative, something that causes the marketplace to say, “they did what?!” and “I want to be part of THAT!”
No consumer anywhere ever woke up and said, “Wow, I’m really glad my supplier found a way to fit more of what they sell me on a truck!! Now that’s some kind of innovative.” It just doesn’t happen. But they do wake up with a desire to participate in a category that was even less interesting to them than tires – because someone made it interesting, because someone engaged them, because someone innovated around what is the single most important aspect of the commercial relationship – the relationship itself.
And when those bonds are formed, they become sticky as heck. They require near acts of God to break apart. They are rooted in trust and mutual commitment. And no amount of antimicrobial additives or quick drying agents in the world can get in the way of that.
Like all else in life, it’s a choice: to talk about innovation while killing it when they see it or to quietly embrace those who represent what it means to truly innovate – those who show up every day intent on creating something different, something bigger than themselves, something consumers actually want to be a part of and couldn’t imagine ever doing without.
So, remember, the only sustainable source of innovation is your people.
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