Archives For Innovation

Sage Kotsenburg is the 20-year-old American who won the first gold medal of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games being held in Sochi, Russia. His gold-winning event was Snowboard Slopestyle and the way that he won contains a lesson or two– even for those of us who don’t (willingly) leave terra firma while zipping down mountains.

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Kotsenburg won the event by nailing a trick that he had never tried before and also performing an original, self-invented grab of his board called the “Holy Crail”. Perhaps most interesting, though, is that the judges seemed unimpressed by the other atheletes who performed the technical “triple cork” trick .

Most who follow the sport assumed it would take at least two triples to win the event. Sage took the top spot and avoided the triple all together. The judges sent a message with their scoring – serendipitous style can supersede technical tricks.


Perhaps the “judges” in our world are longing to see our style. At some level, we can think of our customers, employees, coworkers, spouses and friends as our judges. They watch our lives unfold, one day at a time, they watch and they wait. They don’t assign numerical scores to what they see in our lives, but they notice when we break loose from the expected.

Break out of your comfort zone

It’s interesting that Kotsenburg grabbed the gold by successfully attempting a trick that he had never performed before. Growth alway happens just outside our comfort zone. How many times have I lived today just like I lived yesterday, only because it was familiar and felt safe?

Preparing for greatness

Systems and procedures have their place. Business, and life take shape with the building blocks of great products and valuable services. As a matter of fact, they often enable us to exhibit our style. Even Kotsenburg’s new trick was a combination of popular snow-boarding moves. Moves that no doubt he has practiced time and time again.

Today’s Olympics – will you simply compete, or shine?

What will you deliver to your world today? Will it look like your competitors offerings?Will it look exactly like the goods and services that you delivered last week? Last month? Last year?

Consider taking the known systems and processes of your work and trying something new. How can you repackage or re-orient your product or service that will catch the attention, and admiration of others?

People appreciate those who nail the technical ‘tricks’ of the trade, but they applaud and celebrate those who deliver with a style that is all their own. Can you say, “Southwest Airlines?” Maybe we should stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and strive to give the world something they’ve never seen by doing something we have never done.

Embrace your style –and don’t be surprised when you find yourself on the medalist platform.

Dip or Squeeze

June 20, 2013 — Leave a comment

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I was talking with my youngest daughter this morning. We chatted about our recent trip to the new Chick-fil-A in town.

I said something about liking the ketchup packets. She responded – “yeah, you have options – you can dip or squeeze.” If you have encountered this type of ketchup packet, you know what she means.

You can peel up the bottom corner and dip your fries into the container, or you can tear off the ‘neck’ of the packet and squeeze the tomato goodness out the top. The package, and the choices it offers are notable – at least for ketchup lovers.

While “Dip or Squeeze” ketchup packets break new ground in the fast food arena, the concept of options has significant implications for business in general.

Do you give your customers options? Their needs vary. Their circumstances change. What resonates with one customer may totally miss the mark with another.

Starting up a business requires focus and start-ups often benefit from limiting options, rather than creating more. It’s often wise to role out simple products and services. Such decisions decrease our time-to-market and provide a base-line for future changes and growth.

There comes a time, though, when people want a different color — they want baked, not fried – or prefer to dip rather than squeeze – and they want to decide based on their current needs and desires!

Who is walking away from your product or service because they don’t see it meeting their wants or needs?

When we started our prepaid phone card company, we simplified our offering into one flat rate card. The cards sold well, and we added customers and retailers on a monthly basis. Over time, however, the market changed. We heard new and recurring suggestions from our customers. Competitors began to offer other types of calling cards.

We got busy and designed a card that offered two rate plans – one was a flat rate per minute, the other offered a one-time surcharge per call and a much lower price per minute. (shown below) The customer could choose which rate plan that they preferred.

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The guy who used our card to call his girlfriend and talk for two hours was real happy about out our new card and the ability to choose a rate plan that better-met his needs.

Options create opportunity. Opportunity to attract new customers – and keep old ones satisfied. What new options can you offer today?

Previously, I wrote about “Don’t fall in love” with your idea for a new product or service.

The article emphasized the need to change your ideas and innovate to continue meeting your customers’ needs.

The logical question follows, “how do you know when you need to change your products or services?”

That’s a good question.

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You listen to three things:

  1. Your Customers
  2. Your Financial Statements
  3. Your Self

The more you serve and get to know your customers, the more you learn. They get comfortable sharing what they find difficult about your current offerings. They also speak freely about what they want that is new or different.

Looking back on it, sometimes I have viewed these informative chats with fear. We should, however, embrace these conversations and see them for what they are. These insights from our customers are gifts. They show us how to remain competitive and to keep the account – and in many cases, how to better serve and keep several accounts.

Almost always, the need for a change shows up in your financial statements. A monthly review of your books is critical to monitoring the health of your business. If sales are shrinking, or profit margins are slimming, drill down until you get to the underlying reasons.

Compare this month’s performance to last month and also to the same month last year to eliminate any seasonal influences. Also analyze average sales per location and compare to last month’s and last year’s averages.

Get creative on how you slice and dice your data. What is important to you? …to the company? My partner in business, Charlie, is great at this. Think about the metrics that reflect the health of your company, then use your books to draw wisdom and clarification for your businesses.

Lastly, you can often detect the need for change when you pull away from the daily grind and think. You gain clarity when you take time to think about your business, your customers, and how you serve them.

For me, there are two keys that unlock my “thought zone”. Physical exercise serves to stimulate my thinking about life and business. Going for a walk or jog allows the insights that are trapped in my subconscious mind to bubble up into my conscious thoughts.

Secondly, deliberate silence opens the door to my thoughts. When is the last time that you drove your vehicle without the radio on? Sometimes, we avoid facing the reality of our thoughts by wrapping ourselves in an envelope of noise. Turning off all the noise making devices around is a useful way to stimulate thinking and awareness.

What about you — how do you detect the need for change?



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Don’t fall in love with your idea for a product or service.

You may have a great idea, but chances are, you’ll fail as an entrepreneur if you love your idea so much that you don’t listen to what the market (and others) tell you.

Great ideas get you in the game –they allow you to start. The ability to change your idea increases your odds of success.

I’ve lived this principle. When we started our company, it was an automated operator company for private payphone vendors. We developed a great service that very few of our target customers wanted. We could have stuck to our guns, refined our product, gone to more trade shows, and ultimately gone bankrupt on our great idea.

We chose, however, to shift our focus and develop another product and service. We transformed our initial servers into a prepaid calling card platform — and sold millions of dollars worth of phone cards.

A few years later, phone card sales started to take a nose dive. We changed again and revamped our system to also sell prepaid wireless. As a result, we sold millions of dollars of prepaid wireless airtime, right along side our prepaid calling cards.

The point is, continued innovation and change creates the opportunity for continued success. At any point, if we had fallen in love with our current offerings and resisted change, we would have missed out on the opportunity to meet the changing needs of our growing customer base.

What about you? What are your customers saying about your product or service? What are their needs? What do they want? What changes should you make today to impact your business tomorrow?