Practice Makes Perfect

Introducing the top innovators of...1989. As you would imagine, they've done a lot more innovating in the meantime.

In today's turbulent world, your competitive edge depends on your ability to innovate. With rapidly changing markets, values, behaviors and ways of doing business, you must respond creatively to be profitable. Those who don't lead with innovation lose the competitive battle.

In 1989, I interviewed the CEOs of six companies that had just won awards from the Smaller Business Association of New England (SBANE) for "outstanding success in developing an innovative idea, method or device, with a proven correlation between its innovative qualities and its performance." Having started a consulting practice focused on planning and managing rapid growth, I wanted to explore how dedication to innovation supports successful growth.

I recently went back to talk to three of the companies to find out whether they had sustained their innovative edge over the intervening years, a volatile period in which most businesses experienced numerous economic, technological and competitive twists and turns. I also wanted to know whether their innovative capabilities were still driving growth.

In all three cases, the answer to both questions was a resounding "Yes!"

Each company I revisited has undergone impressive growth, despite major challenges, including dramatic shifts in each of their industries. Each company continues to innovate by re-evaluating, reinventing and repositioning itself in the face of every type of survival test that can be thrown at an organization by today's demanding business climate.

The three businesses I caught up with provide ideas about how you can build and sustain innovation in your own company. One key is for the thirst for continuous innovation to be driven from the top every day. Give your employees the model they need to make innovation a way of life, which, in turn, will make growth a way of life for your business. Here, then, are the stories of three highly successful organizations where innovation is the lifeblood that drives success.

Innovating Since 1989

Plus: The 10 secrets to leading innovationand red flags to watch out for

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This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Practice Makes Perfect.

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