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This article was excerpted from Cause a Disturbance by Ken Tencer and John Paulo Cardoso, which is available for pre-order at Chapters and Amazon. Copyright © 2014 Spyder Works. Published by Morgan James Publishing, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

This article was excerpted from Cause a Disturbance by Ken Tencer and John Paulo Cardoso, which is available for pre-order at Chapters and Amazon. Copyright © 2014 Spyder Works. Published by Morgan James Publishing, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Innovation: Ouff! That Sounds Difficult

Many people think that innovation is masked in complexity. In reality, successful innovation harnesses the obvious.

Take the cake pop for example. These deceptively simple desserts – frosted balls of cake on a lollipop stick – reflect everything that is inherently true about innovation. Created by baker/blogger Angie "Bakerella" Dudley in early 2008, they became an overnight sensation a month later when Martha Stewart invited Dudley to make cake pops on her TV show.

Cake pops were a simple but ingenious new use of a traditional product – an essential aspect of innovation. Their debut opened up huge opportunities for new sales and different creative offerings of the same basic product: batter and frosting on a stick. Why have cake pops been such a success? The concept reflected the world around us – a shift to healthier lifestyles (or at least smaller portions), more frugal indulgences, and ease of access for people on the go – "Look ma, no fork!" It also met another criterion, bringing originality and a sense of fun to the baking and catering industries.

Covered with sprinkles or styled to resemble cupcakes, mini ice-cream cones, flowers, and even Christmas trees, cake pops are now popping up all over: at birthday parties (less messy than slices of cake), weddings, corporate events and family dinners – any place where gracious hosts and hostesses are competing to serve up "new," "unique" and "fun."

Understanding consumer needs and capitalizing on market shifts is the essence of innovation. It's continually re-engaging your customers by meeting their changing wants and needs, even anticipating new needs and meeting them before customers realize they exist. It's about surprising and delighting your customers and solving their problems. Do it. And watch your sales pop.

In the age of social media, customer relationships and brand loyalty have never been more important. It's all about relationships. Your ability to innovate is a core ingredient in not only building relationships with customers but also in keeping those relationships fresh and growing. Like marriages, partnerships and other human bonds, customer relationships require constant nurturing: through new and interesting ideas, new experiences, continual reaffirmation and frequent renewal. Relationships that aren't renewed and reinforced grow old and stale, and get discarded. It's that simple. If you want to build your brand and retain your customers – not to mention attract new ones – then innovation must be a part of your business equation.


Ironically, I enjoyed my first cake pop at Starbucks. Yes, that innovative global, social retail phenomenon built on nothing more than a cup of coffee. Actually, Starbucks was not founded just on a cup of coffee, but on the role that coffee plays in the human need for social interaction. We are still social animals, not just long distance online finger-typers. And funnily enough, while delighting in my first cake pop, I sipped a "Steamed Apple Juice" – more innovative product diversity at a coffee shop (one of the world's oldest retail concepts).

During a presentation on product innovation in New York City, I was asked a great question: "What tools do I need to be an innovator?" My answer was simple and for many, surprising: "Your eyes and ears." Opportunities are all around us. When we take the time to notice them, they can stimulate more creative thoughts within each of us. And I really should have added "feet," because the day before I had walked 40 Manhattan blocks looking for interesting and outrageous inputs to spur my own innovative thinking. Here are two examples of what I found.

First, I noted that Ben & Jerry's had introduced a new Greek frozen yogurt. They're jumping on the trend that has seen smoother, higher-protein Greek yogurt double sales in each of the past three years. It's still not "that" healthy, of course, but Ben & Jerry's positions it as a "reasonable reward," not health food. It's a fast, clever move to harness consumers' changing tastes and growing health concerns, while maintaining Ben & Jerry's reputation for flamboyant branding. Who else would sell Greek frozen yogurt in flavors such as Strawberry Shortcake, Raspberry Fudge Chunk and Banana Peanut Butter?

Second, I observed a large billboard for the successful A&E TV show, Storage Wars. It's about modern-day treasure hunters, competing to acquire abandoned storage lockers that might conceal antiques, collectibles, bargains and other forgotten treasures. Why do people love this reality show? Both the idea and the timing were right. It's about discovery, at a time when millions find themselves in tough economic circumstances. It's an adult version of a kid's game, deeply rooted in fond memories. This combination of hope, fun, triumph and even disappointment has become an elixir to lighten people's daily struggles. Again, the simple matching of an idea that reflects people's wants and needs becomes an innovation.

Little discoveries and everyday surprises

The point is this: Whether you're a product developer, retailer, manufacturer or service provider, you too can uncover the little discoveries and everyday surprises that engage today's consumers, who are always looking for something new, different, better and fun.

Next time you're in another city – or just a new part of your town – don't think of sitting back in a cab or going underground in the subway. Take a walk. Look up, look down, look around, notice what people are wearing, doing, enjoying. Venture into stores you wouldn't normally go into. The more you leave the office to see and hear other people, products, places and new approaches, the more you will see what consumers are doing – and the more ideas you will gather to make your own work more innovative. Plus, a walk is good for your health.

Throughout this book, you are going to be peppered with ideas and examples like these, many of which were uncovered by simply being aware of what's going on around us. A number of themes will emerge as we cover the key factors that help you become a successful innovator.

  • We explore what innovation is and how to identify the many simple opportunities for innovation that surround us day-to-day.
  • We look at companies with consumer-focused platforms and processes (Starbucks, Apple, Disney) that are different from those of commodity-based companies (makers of coffee or computers, or suppliers of personal or business services), and discuss how great companies create more opportunities to be innovative.
  • We show you how to shift your mindset from thinking like a commodity provider to thinking like a platform builder.
  • We expose the misconception that innovation equals invention, which will help you understand how accessible and powerful innovation can be.
  • We show you how innovation can change your business in small simple steps by walking you through the 90 per cent Rule®, which helps you create a dynamic, customer-focused culture of innovation in your business.

The 90 per cent Rule is a straightforward philosophy that recognizes that, when it comes to introducing successful new innovations, you are already 90 per cent of the way there. It gets you to leverage the 90 per cent of the work that you already understand or are capable of doing, and then constantly ask, "What's the next 10 per cent?" What's the next product, service or process improvement that will create a continuously engaged customer base, strengthen your brand and grow the business?

Keep in mind that while I emphasize that innovation is easy, it does require some effort, a change of thinking, and constant commitment. But then, what doesn't?

If you are one of those people who get out of bed every morning to make a difference, your commitment to innovation is alive and well. And if your energy is rooted in audacity, you're ahead of the game. To some, audacity may be a negative concept associated with attitude or edge, but the real definition centers on the willingness to challenge assumptions and conventions – and that's the catalyst for innovation. Often, the biggest challenge of innovation is to overcome two well-known barriers to change: the naysayers in the room who say, "That'll never work, because...." and those who say, "We don't have time to innovate."

Make it work. If you don't, your competitors will.

Ready to cause a disturbance? Read on.

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