4 Ways to Win the Innovation War

As companies battle it out in today’s hypercompetitive markets, where traditional forms of differentiation are now just commodities, the primary competitive weapon has become an organization’s capacity for radical and continuous innovation. CEOs wishing to lead from the front will need to understand how to dramatically improve this capacity to give their companies a strategic advantage in the new global innovation war.

So where exactly is your organization’s next big idea going to come from? Here are 4 proven ways for your people to generate the kinds of new products, services, strategies and business models that can drive top-line growth and perhaps even revolutionize your industry.

1. Challenge orthodoxies. Identify and challenge the conventional assumptions that represent the dominant thinking in your industry. When Elon Musk founded Tesla Motors, he was told by Detroit’s seasoned executives that “you can’t make a compelling electric car—one that’s aesthetically appealing, long-range and high performance. You’ll never be able to bring it to market, you’ll never be able to produce it in volumes, and you’ll never be able to make a profit.” That was Musk’s invitation to give the automobile industry a major electric shock. Just over a decade later, every car company—and even Apple, too—is asking itself how it can learn from Musk’s playbook.

“Identify and challenge the conventional assumptions that represent the dominant thinking in your industry.”

2. Harness trends. Try to recognize patterns of change that could drastically alter the current rules of competition, and potentially open up huge new opportunities—if you act on them before others do. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, realized that Internet video streaming represented not just the future of the video rental business, but the future of TV. Shifting his company’s whole business model from home DVD delivery to video on demand, Netflix has emerged as a winner, with more than 33 million paid subscribers (that’s more than HBO!).

3. Leverage resources to expand your brand. Look for ways to repurpose, redeploy and recombine your company’s core competencies and strategic assets to create new growth opportunities. P&G, for example, has stretched its Mr. Clean brand from cleaning liquids into Magic Erasers, mops, kitchen scrubbers, and a nationwide car wash franchise, and has extended its Tide brand from laundry detergent into fabric care products, clothes hangers, stain removers, and a chain of dry cleaners.

  1. Understand customer needs. Remember that many breakthrough innovation opportunities are found not by looking at your product or service, but by looking at your customers and users. Gary and Diane Heavin, an entrepreneurial couple from Texas, recognized that traditional fitness clubs were not catering to the needs of women. So they decided to open Curves—a fitness franchise exclusively for women and managed by women. It became the fastest-growing franchise in history, and is now the largest fitness chain in the world.

By deliberately using these 4 proven perspectives—aptly called “The Four Lenses of Innovation”—you will be able to significantly improve your company’s odds of winning in today’s intensifying innovation war.



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