5 Easy Ways Any Business Can Innovate

While innovation is one of the key drivers of any successful business, many companies are going about developing new ideas all wrong, a new book contends.

In "Flirting with the Uninterested" (Advantage Media Group, 2012), authors Maria Ferrante-Schepis, a veteran in the insurance and financial services industry who now consults Fortune 100 companies, and G. Michael Maddock, CEO of the innovation firm Maddock Douglas, Inc., argue that the biggest breakthroughs in the history of business are never the result of conventional thinking. However, despite that, too many businesses are trying to unearth new ideas in ways that aren't productive.

"There’s a great saying in the South: 'You can’t read the label when you are sitting inside the jar,'" Maddock said. "It's hard to see a need and invent a way to fill that need when you've been inside one business or industry for a long time."

Recognizing those needs requires stepping outside of the proverbial jar and viewing things from the outside, said Ferrante-Schepis.

"You can't innovate from inside the jar, and if you aren’t innovating, you’re just waiting for the expiration date on your business," she said.

Ferrante-Schepis and Maddock offer companies 5 tips to improve their corporate innovation:

  • Listen to customers: Many industries make the mistake of getting their insights from their own experts rather than asking the consumer.
  • Target new customers: In the interest of preserving customer morale, too many companies focus on those who already love their service. But that's not what companies need to work on; they need to focus on what's not working in order to improve. The haters very often offer well-targeted insights that can tremendously improve products, customer service and operations.
  • Try things in new ways: People who are in the jar interpret new ideas based on how they last saw them. They may think they've tried or tested an idea, but if it was applied it in a conventional way — the way it's always been used — then they haven't really tried it. Consider the term "auction." In-the-jar thinkers envision Sotheby's, while the more practical and innovative think eBay.
  • Communication: Communication is a huge part of innovation. Be very careful about the language used. Customers recognize, respond to and build from their own words more than from a business's.
  • Get out of the office: Doubling down on what already has failed is not innovative. Get outside the office with some fellow employees and act like an anthropologist by spending time with customers. When finished, compare notes to see how differently everyone sees the situation.