I have seen a couple of interesting articles recently about innovation and whether or not America is “tapped out” in the realms of creativity and invention. The first was “Is America Out of Ideas?” by Daniel Gross. The second was, “Cultural Revolution,” from The Economist.
In the first, the author talks about Apple, Microsoft , Hollywood and Taco Bell. He bemoans the practice of recycling old ideas, slapping a new label on them and calling them good. First of all, this is not new. Every manufacturer worth his salt has tried to get that last bit of revenue out of what was once a good, innovative product. Do they always hit the mark? Of course not. Some products are just great the way they are and there is not much more that can make them better. The problem is relying on these “upgrades” or marketing sleight of hand to make us think they are really new when they are not. A company must also have really innovative products or ideas coming out concurrently, although not necessarily in place of, their classic moneymakers. Think about Coke. Remember when they tried to “upgrade” to New Coke? Riots ensued.
The second article is all about the Chobani yogurt story. For the record, I love the stuff! It is a great example of taking a standard product and making it new. That’s innovation. Seeing a niche and going for it. You know you’ve done it well when everyone else imitates you, (and you’ve gained significant market share), as has happened with Chobani. As the article notes, this is when market share starts to erode because of all the imitators. A form of flattery no doubt, however, it’s troubling to the bottom line. I imagine the founder is already thinking about “what’s next” because he is an innovator, through and through.
So is America out of ideas as Daniel Gross examines in his article? The answer is – of course not. Some big companies may have trouble innovating because their cultures lack the innovative gene, but entrepreneurs are alive and well trying new things every day. The nature of small business requires innovation and idea generation or game over. Necessity drives the innovation much faster than at the larger firms that have the cash cushion to ride out a long development cycle. The only problem for entrepreneurs is that access to the capital to take good ideas forward is not always readily available when they need it. Entrepreneurial innovation does not always go hand-in-hand with good business savvy.
Take a look at your own company and see where you have or have not been innovative recently. I’ve blogged on how to set up innovative cultures and how not to suppress good ideas. Have you repackaged some products that really should be put to pasture? Have you introduced new products or services that are truly unique while at the same time maintaining relevancy for your current products? Give yourself a way to grade your innovation culture on a scale of 1-10 and if you’re not above a 5, the end might be near. Get people talking, both inside and outside the company and see what products or services pop up as the next “new” idea. You’ll be glad you did.