Many business leaders shy away from innovation because they think it's too complicated, but in reality, the process is easier than they think. Successful innovation harnesses the obvious.
The essence of innovation lies in understanding consumer needs and capitalizing on market shifts. It's about continually re-engaging customers by meeting their changing wants and needs, even before they realize they're changing.
Companies should start by recognizing the many practical, easy and effective examples of innovation. The following 10 examples will set your brain spinning and help you see how simple it can be to develop new products, services and processes that make a splash in any market.
The common theme? They're all examples of ways to surprise and delight customers by addressing one of their challenges.
1. Pizza Saver: Seriously? The mundane little table-like plastic part that holds the top of the box away from the pizza? For those who suffered through university with pizza stuck to the inside of cardboard boxes, life has never been the same. Kids today have no idea how good they have it, but Carmela Vitale does. She was awarded a patent for this three-legged wonder in 1985.
2. Cakepop: Credit Angie 'Bakerella' Dudley for this delightful creation. The lollipop-type pastry is bright, fun, engaging and a wonderful treat. It will never be mistaken for health food, but it's a huge improvement over a big slab of cake, and the on-the-go ease of the lollipop stick is perfect for today's hectic pace.
3. Double-window drive-through: If the drive-through wasn't already fast food's answer to our busy lifestyles, the double window was the icing on the cake. The second window lets restaurants separate the money exchange from food service, saving time and reducing friction. Simple, yes, but a nice addition to the customer experience.
4. Taco Bell's breakfast taco waffle: Behold, a taco-shaped waffle shell wrapped around a sausage patty or bacon, with scrambled eggs and cheese, served with syrup. Why did this make the list? Taco Bell has finally figured out an in-brand way to extend its hours of operation and generate more revenue per square foot. Operating leverage is a tasty treat for every business.
5. Wheels on suitcases: Thank you, Bernard Sadow, for introducing these babies in 1970 (despite the fact he was turned down by countless department-store buyers). What traveller wants to lug 50 pounds of baggage through never-ending airport terminals? For the record, it took humanity a year longer to put wheels on suitcases than it did to put a man on the moon.
6. The HondaVAC vaccum cleaner in the Honda Odyssey: This was a tough one. Do busy families choose the Dodge Caravan's Stow 'N Go seats, which let you create more storage space in your minivan without having to haul out the seats? Or do they choose the Odyssey, with its built-in Shop-Vac ready to clean up every little spill? Choice is good.
7. Velcro shoes: For those too young or too old to fuss around with laces, and for their care-givers, Velcro closures are a game changer. They make the great outdoors more accessible than ever. Plus, a shout-out for Velcro jumping, where you slip into a full-body Velcro suit and leap onto Velcro-covered walls, just for the heck of it.
8. Self-sealing envelopes: For those entrepreneurs who used to end each business day writing out cheques and licking their tongues raw – what took so long?
9. The Post-It note: It's the semi-sticky poster child for simple, breakthrough innovations. But with 3M producing 50 billion of these a year, how can we ignore it? Especially since the humble Post-It brand has now become the national sponsor of the speed-innovating phenomenon known as Startup Weekend.
10. Squeezable jars: Whether you're pouring mayonnaise, jam, honey, or ketchup, the squeezable jar is welcome relief for every meal. Old brands such as Britain's Marmite spread are finding new life in plastic packaging. Little things make a big difference.
If you're out to make a difference in your market, you'll face two well-known barriers to change: the naysayers who argue "that'll never work" or those who say "we don't have time to innovate." Ignore them. Target a problem. Look for simple solutions. And keep the innovations coming.
Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works Inc., is a branding and innovation expert who helps organizations reimagine their futures. He is co-author of two books on innovation – The 90 per cent Rule and Cause a Disturbance (Morgan James Publishing, NY).