Innovative Model

Culture of Creativity

Shira White interviewed more than 100 highly creative thinkers, many of them in the corporate world, for her latest book, New Ideas About New Ideas (Perseus Publishing). She says if there's a common denominator among innovative entrepreneurs, it's this: "They tend to have creative lives, even when they're out of the office."

Reiman does. He is an adjunct business professor at Emory University, where he finds many--but not all--of his illuminaries. He's into yoga. He has horses in the barn near his house. In college, he studied and worked for Italian film director Federico Fellini. A voracious reader, he often hands out business books to his staff. But mostly, he looks at the world through multicolored glasses. Even brainstorming isn't brainstorming. He calls it "heartstorming."

When BrightHouse ideates, Reiman has one guiding principle: Think with your heart as much as your mind. "If you can actually impact the world, make a dent in the universe, do something that resonates with the hearts around the world, the profits will come," promises Reiman. "It sounds high-flying, and it is. It's soaring."

Much of it comes down to caring for the customer, which isn't all that innovative. Or is it? "Considering what's happened with 9/11, Anderson, the Archdiocese, Enron--the world is a lot more cynical," says Reiman. "People are looking for beacons to lead them, and if companies can really identify and articulate their core purposes, people will follow." That's why we remember Henry Ford today, and why people in the 22nd century will be talking about Bill Gates.

But if nothing had been invented after 1899, there would have been no Ford or Gates, and we would have been stuck on the edge of greatness. Our movies would still be grainy black and white, and Henry Ford wouldn't have created a car everybody could afford. Ford understood what Reiman says is a valve at the heart of innovation: "It's not just about coming up with new products. It's about understanding culture, and even something as large as a country."

Indeed, that's why Reiman always asks his clients: If your company were gone tomorrow, what would the world lose? And their answer had better be focused and nothing less than profound. "History only has room for one sentence," Reiman likes to tell his clients. He pauses and then asks: "What's your sentence?"

A Fierce Case of Innovation

Traction Plus Inc. is a $20 million company. Its products, ranging from chemicals and clothing to legal services, are sold throughout North America and Europe. The company has run Johnson Wax out of the floor-safety business and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

So what's so innovative about it? Owner Russell Kendzior has not a single employee.

Kendzior operates out of his Bedford, Texas, office without so much as a receptionist. He virtually created his own industry--floor safety--and is constantly diversifying, zig-zagging his business into a global force to be reckoned with.

As a floor-covering salesman in the late 1980s, Kendzior listened when his customers complained that their floors became slippery soon after they were purchased. He did some research and commissioned chemists to develop a soap-free floor-cleaning product. After sinking $5,000 into research and quitting his job, Kendzior had his product, but no distributor. Kendzior gave away his floor cleaner to friends who owned some McDonald's locations, and within a year, it was the top-selling floor cleaner at McDonald's restaurants in the Dallas area.

Kendzior started off with a warehouse and two employees, but quickly realized he could license his product and have somebody else do all the work, freeing him to think up other opportunities. Today, licensees manufacture and distribute Traction Plus' wet-floor signs and floor-safety shoes. Kendzior created and runs the nonprofit National Floor Safety Institute, and he gives legal testimony in cases involving slippery floor accidents.

If there's a secret to Kendzior's innovation, it's that he thinks of himself as a virus, "a very resistant virus. Viruses are very small. They can withstand radiation. They need a host to propagate and survive, and the marketplace is the host," says Kendzior.

Kendzior has made himself resistant to antibodies in a number of ways. Not even those who manufacture his soap-free formula know what's in it because it's made in several different places. And because Traction Plus has diversified its product and service line within the floor-safety arena, it's now the point-company for the industry. Even Johnson Wax couldn't destroy Traction Plus when it came out with its own soap-free floor cleaner a few years ago. Johnson Wax, despite its great reputation, couldn't match the range of expertise Kendzior's business had.

"Being a micro-organization is great," says Kendzior. "We're a very resistant, very strong, but very small company. I don't want to be Johnson Wax. I think they want to be me."

Geoff Williams is known around the world for being an icon of innovation, a creative god, and the man Steven Spielberg and Stephen Hawking turn to when they need inspiration. This is the last time we let him write his own biographical notes.

Contact Sources

« Previous 1 2 3 Page 4

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Innovative Model.

Loading the player ...

Mark Cuban's 12 Rules for Startups

Ads by Google

Share Your Thoughts

Connect with Entrepreneur

Most Shared Stories