The Innovation Toolkit

Competing Against the Big Guys & More

How to survive in an industry dominated by big companies
Bruce Frimmerman
You can be inventive in the executive recruiting business and still [have] no customers because the industry is dominated by large companies. We target midsized companies, and we hammer over and over the advantages we have over big firms. As a small company, identify one thing you do better and then hammer at how much better you can do that task.
Bruce Frimmerman is the president and CEO of executive recruiting company Recruit Masters Inc.

of CEOs at America's fastest-growing companies say they are more innovative than their competitors.

Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers

How to encourage employees to innovate
Arnold Sanow
Don't let them be automatons. The best companies take the risk of letting their employees make major decisions involving decent sums of money. At McDonald's, the employees don't come up with new ideas because they are not allowed to make a decision about anything important without consulting the manager first. At Home Depot, any employee on the floor can make a decision about whether to discount a product or whether to change something they think is marked wrong. Some of these decisions can cost thousands of dollars. It's not surprising that Home Depot gets many new ideas from ordinary workers.
Arnold Sanow is a business strategist and the author ofMarketing Boot Camp(Kendall/Hunt Publishing).

How to get the world to take your ideas seriously
Jayson Meyer
When I moved into doing very specialized health-care software work, I got respect. If you make the effort to master an industry, such as health-care software, that demands that you know a large amount of specific detail. People will take you seriously because the barriers to entry are high. Even if you are in an industry that requires less specialization, dedicate yourself to gaining mastery of some specialized details, and you will get respect.
Jayson Meyer is the co-founder of Meyer Technologies/WorkSmartMD.

How to anticipate the future
Michael Zey
Let the consumer lead you in anticipating the future. So many entrepreneurs come up with a technology and become wedded to it and wedded to how consumers should use it. But they don't anticipate that consumers might use it in different ways than they had intended. The makers of baking soda made it as a baking product. But they knew that consumers could help them anticipate the future, so they put a note on the sides of baking soda cans that said "If you have other ideas for how to use this product, let us know." And that's how we wound up also using baking soda to fight odors.
Michael Zey is a futurist and the author ofFuture Factor.

of innovative companies plan to make substantial new business-growth investments in the next 12 months.

Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers

How to reinvent commonplace technology
Hettie Herzog
Don't try to just improve on existing technology and market your product as such. You have to start from scratch if it's an idea or a product the public is already extremely familiar with. Then you have to advertise your new product as totally different from the existing technology; don't remind consumers of the existing thing, but convince them you offer a new experience.
Hettie Herzog is the president of Automated Distribution Tecnologies Inc., a developer of a fully automated kiosk that dispenses up to 200 different items.

How to brainstorm successfully
"Cactus" Jack Barringer
Go to sleep. There's nothing like your subconscious [for] brainstorming. I identify a problem I think needs to be fixed, tell my mind to focus on it, and then I take a nap in the afternoon. I keep a pad by my bed and wake myself up and write down what comes to mind. This is how I have come up with hundreds of brainstorms.
"Cactus" Jack Barringer is the founder of Reality Sports Entertainment Inc. and the inventor of a dozen products.

How to break the rules
Robert Sutton
Successful innovation must include doing things everyone will tell you is a terrible idea. Among stupid ideas, I suggest hiring some slow learners. People who are slow to understand how things are done in your organization, whom you might even dislike, often are the ones who come up with new ideas.

Every few months, do the most random thing you can at your business, without picking something that would wreck your company. Human beings naturally have a positive emotional reaction to things we see every day and a negative one to new things. When we do random things, we overcome that negative impulse against new ideas.

Don't think about big ideas. Most successful entrepreneurs, like George Zimmer, owner of The Men's Wearhouse, take an idea and make it only a tiny bit better, but then do that tiny extra bit incredibly well.

Encourage your staff to ignore their superiors. A Navy admiral once approached me at a conference and told me most of the great innovations in the Navy over the past century came from people who would have been court-martialed for disobeying superiors while they were working on their projects.
Robert Sutton is the author of the bestselling bookWeird Ideas That Work.

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This article was originally published in the May 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Innovation Toolkit.

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