market trends

Too Big To Fail

Innovation Insights
One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO


While the assumption that a company or an industry could be “too big to fail” has been used mainly since the recent financial crisis, the notion itself has smugly resided in corporate boardrooms since the dawn of the modern corporation. “Our technology dominates the market, no need to worry,” said the buggy-whip maker to his horse.

Failure and evolution are a natural part of business, but sometimes it’s hard to watch. Sadly, we may now be witnessing the demise of a key industry giant in Kodak – a company that actually foresaw and invented the future, yet somehow managed not to learn from it.

As reported in the New York Times, “The big story here is that their core business, the yellow box business [film], got cannibalized by the digital camera, which ironically they invented,” said analyst Chris Whitmore of Deutsche Bank Securities.

The good news for investors is that Kodak’s management claims that the company is now soundly and strategically focused on digital printing technology – this in a world that is increasingly going paperless.  I don’t mean to pick on Kodak; they are not the first company or industry to resist change, nor will they be the last.

In an upcoming Innovation Insight entitled “Fueling Green,” we will look at how the auto industry is managing changing technologies very well by re-imagining their own future… and actively trying to adapt.

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Examples that show innovation can be easy

Originally published as a Special to Globe and Mail Update, January 4, 2012

Image from a Shreddies campaign in 2008

When I ask business owners and managers about innovation, many of them talk about ideas they have percolating but they have never pursued.

They’re too busy fighting front-burner issues to think about anything new. But if innovation is going to be a source of new products and revenues, I have three words for you, from one of the world’s most innovative companies: Just Do It.

t’s as simple as that. Innovation is about bringing ideas to market rather than letting them languish on a half-forgotten scratchpad. And innovation doesn’t necessarily mean invention. More often, it’s about acting on an opportunity you have already recognized, or adapting existing solutions for other markets or industries.

How simple can innovation be? Consider these examples:

Seeing the same thing in a different way

Think of the publicity coup for Post’s Shreddies – and its 18-point gain in market share – when it reintroduced the timeless breakfast cereal in diamond shapes rather than squares.

Exploring new markets with the same products (or slightly adapted features)

Toy giant Lego has launched a Lego Friends brand to target girls in addition to its dominating “boy brands” such as Star Wars Lego and Lego Ninjago.

Tapping into (or teaming up with) new market trends

Hyundai now provides a multimedia tablet as an owner’s manual instead of the traditional printed book.

Bringing together features from existing products or markets to create something “new”

The maker of SLAP Watch offers a unique twist on silicone watches with interchangeable faces, bright colours, and spring-coil bracelet – all in one item.

Innovation is the engine that drives your business forward. Think about it: customers are engaged by new and exciting products and services. It gives them something to talk about, a reason to buy again, and more often.

You wouldn’t change the oil in your car just once a year – the engine would sputter and die. Your company shouldn’t leave ideation, innovation or the introduction of new – even small – improvements to an annual schedule. Without the tune-up of continuing innovation, your business will also sputter and die.

You should make 2012 the year that innovation becomes a continuous, front-burner activity, just like sales and marketing.

How do you take the first step in your business? Set aside a 15-minute slot in your weekly sales and marketing meeting. Ask everyone at the table to talk about one interesting innovation they have seen in your industry, or better yet, an industry far from your own. Discuss which examples are most applicable to your business, then charge a person or team to flesh those ideas out. Monitor their progress monthly in the same team meetings. Success breeds success, and feedback and inclusivity are its lifeblood.

Winning through innovation doesn’t have to be scary, painful or expensive. Business owners and managers can do it step by step. Start by creating an environment in which employees, trusted partners and even customers offer great new product and service ideas. The active ingredient in “win-novation” is simply creating a process to examine those ideas and pursue the best of them.

The cost is low, the potential sky-high. It’s better to implement a number of smaller innovations than to have big ideas and do nothing with them.

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How to identify innovation opportunities

Innovation is a process that stymies many companies. They’re so eager to find their next big breakthrough that they don’t realize that innovation is a simple process that anyone can learn.

It’s not a matter of waiting and waiting till you hit a home run. Successful innovation is all about getting the basics right every day, and hitting lots of singles.

One innovative-thinking technique we use at Spyder Works is the “Rule or Guideline?” game. We ask clients to write down a list of all the rules at their businesses that they know they mustn’t break. These lists invariably include laws, safety rules and industry regulations, but also lots of conventions, rules of thumbs, best practices and bad habits. We then ask the clients to cross off all the rules that have been legislatively imposed – the rules where an authority can actually punish you for violating. You don’t want to break those rules.

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