How Do Brands Deliver the Future? Innovate

Innovative is the most overused word in business. However, it is also the most important business concept. Without innovation, a business cannot survive. Last year, Inc. magazine published the top ten overused company buzzwords. Guess where “innovative” ranked? It was number one! Search the word “innovative” on Google and you get over 2 billion results.

In today’s world of disruptors, digitalization, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet of Everything, every brand is looking for the ultimate innovation to keep them relevant and profitable. Every CEO understands that innovation is key to their brand’s future. Yet, it is often elusive. Every day, formerly popular brands become obsolete.

A brand can either ignore reality or start looking for new opportunities outside their comfort zone. Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century says, “the most important attribute you can have is creative imagination – the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools can be put together in new and exciting ways to create products, communities, opportunities, and profits.”

Shawn Hunter the author of Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes, defines innovation as the implementation or creation of something new that has immense value to others.

“Creativity isn’t necessarily innovation,” Hunter told Business News Daily. “If you have a brainstorm meeting and dream up dozens of new ideas, then you have displayed creativity, [but] there is no innovation until something gets implemented.”

Innovation is Putting Ideas into Action

Creativity is the process of developing unique and novel ideas. To find out more on this topic check out 9 Creative Ideas for Great Branding. Innovation is the process of putting new ideas into workable, physical actions that create measurable financial results and brings value to the brand and its customers.

It’s easy to generate ideas. The hard part is implementing the ideas. There will be many reasons why an idea can’t be implemented such resource limitations, timing, expertise deficiencies, process and production issues, costs, and leadership. Most big ideas cannot be implemented without many small, successful ideas.

A company’s internal culture sets the stage for their ability to create great ideas, but that is only the start. Most companies don’t know how to move an idea into reality.  Physically implementing an idea requires many disciplines across many different silos. A clear system must be in place to turn new ideas into overnight innovations.

Innovation Starts with a Problem

Many new innovations are inspired by a problem such as declining sales, customer changes, shifting trends, new technologies, or competitive actions. The trick is listening to what customers are thinking and understanding the opportunities or issues. Brands need to closely watch the marketplace (locally and internationally) to understand shifts in attitudes, trends, and technology drivers.

In her article, The 10 Things Innovative Companies Do To Stay On Top, Julie Bort says that successfully innovative companies get their best ideas by listening to their customers. In Everything Connects—How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability, Faisal Hoque and Drake Baer emphasize the importance of engaging customers throughout the innovation process. “Listen again to the customer to help them imagine; use prototypes to elicit feedback; listen to customer acceptance/buying criteria; listen to what could go wrong, but don’t let the devil’s advocate take control.”

Innovation is a Constant Process

New ideas can be easily implemented by setting up an internal start-up team that works on a concept from start to finish. Another popular way is to buy out promising innovation companies and combine them into the big brand powerhouse. David Friend, CEO of Wasabi Technologies, says “It’s hard to have a corporate culture that juxtaposes caution and process on one hand with nimbleness and innovation on the other. So, it’s a good idea to separate the two functions inside the company so that both are fostered.”

In the Harvard Business Review, Gary Hamel, London Business School professor, and Nancy Tennant, past chief innovation officer innovation at Whirlpool, suggest that innovation requires a systemic view. “It’s not about individual tools and tactics, but how each of those methods fit together to accelerate the product innovation cycle.”

Technological companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FAANG) have figures this out from day one as they continue to innovate and introduce new brands in a timely fashion.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said: “Invention comes in many forms and at many scales. The most radical and transformative of inventions are often those that empower others to unleash their creativity — to pursue their dreams.” Apple’s career website says every sentence at Apple starts with ‘what if…?’: “Everyone here is an innovator, or an innovator-to-be. That’s how we create the kinds of products and experiences that few ever imagine…innovation comes from everyone in every role at Apple.” Netflix’s Culture Manifesto states: “You thrive on change” and “You challenge prevailing assumptions and suggest better approaches.” Facebook strives to make “innovation a daily habit” by encouraging its employees to constantly introduce new ideas. Google promotes a culture of innovation through its eight principles of innovation that help empower employees to innovate.

Innovation Needs to Be Fast

Jeff Bezo is focussed on swiftness; He strives to meet his customers’ every need in hours not days. Every day he asks one simple question: “Are we a Day 1 or Day 2 Company?” A Day 1 brand believes that every day is a new day; experimenting, inventing, and innovating are the norm. Day 1 brands are passionate about surpassing customers’ needs and aren’t hostages to the process. Day 1 brands stay ahead of the curve, have high-speed decision making skills, and believe that 80 percent confidence is enough. They detest bureaucracy, waste, and outdated attitudes and practices. Agility isn’t just a word but an attitude that embraces a start-up spirit regardless of history or size.

Only Innovative Brands Will Survive

Well established older brands are generally less nimble. They have well established processes, systems, policies, and governances that allows them to provide customers with a high quality, consistent, brand experience. All these controls impede innovation. Therefore, they often focus on small product innovation. Major transformations cause too much upheaval and risk.

Retooling a company for innovation is a formidable task. In 1999, Dave Whitwam, then chairman of Whirlpool set a new culture of innovation where every job and very process would change. He anticipated that this journey would take five years! Today, five years is a life-time for some brands and a death sentence for others.

Gary Hamel and Nancy Tennant defined five key innovation elements for a brand:

  1. Upgrade Innovation Skills;
  2. Define Innovation;
  3. Establish Comprehensive Metrics;
  4. Hold Leaders Accountable;
  5. Retool Processes for Constant Innovation.

Moving a great idea into an innovation isn’t easy and many times they fail. Just ask Google about failed innovations (50 failed Google products). But, failure hasn’t stop them from launching many successes new brands in the last 12 months like the Pixel Smartphone, Google Home, Pixelbook, and Nest Hub Max.

We can all learn from the FAANG corporate culture and begin to transform an idea into an innovation quickly and efficiently. For a FAANG brand, innovation isn’t just an overused word, but a way of doing business daily.


9 Creative Ideas for Great Branding

Creativity is at the core of every successful brand. It is continuous reinvention driven by new ideas and new ways of doing business. Apple, Netflix and Amazon are great examples of iconic brands that continue to evolve. Creativity is the catalyst for innovation. How do you build a creative culture to ensure your brand is always on the top? It starts with an understanding of creativity. Then, talented people must know how to be creative and have the freedom to do so.

Pixar is a wonderful example of a company with a creative culture; the innovative animation giant has created 14 blockbuster movies in a row. Pixar President Ed Catmull, coauthor of the book Creativity, Inc., points out some basic observations:

  • Talent is rare;
  • Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur;
  • The working environment must be safe to tell the truth. Everyone must constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the flaws that could destroy our culture;
  • Always remember that the ultimate goal is ‘making the product great’.

Creativity isn’t elusive or exclusive. According to a joint study by Harvard and Insead, 85 percent of creativity is a learned skill. All we need to do it learn it! But that is easier said, than done for most of us.

To get started, here are nine creative ideas to help build an environment to sustain a great brand:


1. Connect the Dots

Maria Popova, the creative genius behind BrainPickings.org, says that creativity is the ability to connect the unconnected – it is the melding of existing knowledge into new insight about the world around us. It’s the ability to connecting the dots between unrelated ideas. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group incorporated this concept into the company’s philosophy of growth. They call it the ABCD process: Always Be Connecting Dots.

Steve Jobs said “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”


2. Curiosity

Psychologist Todd Kashdan said that curiosity “appears to be a fundamental motive in facilitating industry and creativity.” Curiosity goes hand-in-hand with creativity. B. F. Skinner, psychologist and author, said “When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.” Visit a bookstore or library and wander the rows of books and maybe get inspired to read about something different. Buy a magazine from a section that you rarely view. Watch a movie or TED Talk on a topic you know nothing about. Take a course on a new skill set that you are interested in but know nothing about. Start asking the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of everything around you.


3. See Things Differently

In Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, she emphasizes the importance of observing your environment on a deeper level. Leonardo da Vinci observed that many people look, but few people see; mindful seeing is the foundation of direct experience and the foundation of direct knowledge. Writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind. Try to be in the moment.


4. Expand Your View

Involve individuals and ideas from all walks of life to help collaborate. Google provides lunch every day for all their employees but there is a catch – everyone from all departments and levels must participate. They share their current projects and discuss new ideas. According to Caitlin Adair, from Google’s head office, their café and micro-kitchens create collaborative space for employees to “discuss, brainstorm, meet and relax.”

Google goes to great lengths to provide employees with fun perks such as beach volleyball courts, mini golf courses, and adult playgrounds. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even wacky, ideas. Businesses need to do their best to foster a safe, creative space where unusual ideas are celebrated and where creativity is nurtured.


5. Experiment – Appreciate That It’s a Process

Creativity is a process that is developed over time. We have to embrace that and give it time.

All facets of life have sped up except the human brain. Technology has reduced production time down to seconds but thinking still takes same amount of time today as it did 300 years ago. Great ideas come from anywhere at any time. If you sit someone down and tell them that they need to produce a brilliant idea in ten minutes, your chance of success is extremely low. 

The first iPhone didn’t just happen. It took many hundreds of versions before it was finally released. Some of them were terrible versions that Apple never showed us like the rumored click wheel iPhone

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” says Kotler. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent – these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

Don’t be frustrated that you didn’t come up with a brilliant idea in five minutes. Creativity takes time – sleep on it, and get others to sleep on it. The more brain power, the better.


6. Shake Things Up

Sitting around a table brainstorming isn’t thinking out-side-the-box. Get up. Move around. Change your perspective, literally. Physical movement has been shown to have a positive effect on creative thinking. Add other stimuli like toys and music to help stimulate your brain. 

Facebook‘s Mark Zuckerberg conducts meetings on foot – walking around the Facebook campus. Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education. 

Experience new things. Take different routes to and from work. Use your left hand for the things you would normally do with the right hand. Avoid anything that makes life monotonous or mundane. Promise yourself you will do something different today.


7. Play

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO is believes that creative thinkers need time, space, and permission to play in order to do their jobs well because playfulness helps us get to more creative solutions. Check out his TED Talk as he talks about the powerful relationship between creative thinking and play – with many examples you can try at home (and one that maybe you shouldn’t).


8. Problem Solve

Creativity ultimately helps a successful brand solve a problem. Nick Woodman couldn’t get any great action photographs of himself surfing in Australia. This problem inspired him to develop the GoPro camera. Doctor Joan Fallon noticed that many autistic children had a deficiency in a certain kind of enzyme for processing protein. She started Curemark and raised $50 million to develop a treatment to solve the problem. Today, she is taking her unique technology and tackling problems like schizophrenia and other neurological conditions. Maybe Ingvar Kamprad couldn’t get a table into his trunk of his small Swedish car, so he took the legs off and then started IKEA.

As Steve Jobs said “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”


9. What ‘If’ Questions

To help change your perspective, use a simple question to reframe the opportunity. Its like the “what else can you do with a brick” question.

Think outside the box by taking an existing object and asking clever questions to twist the very concept of it and make it new and different. Steve Jobs started off by making the iPhone a super “slick” phone. With a few “what ifs” added into the equation, Apple transformed the cell phone into the smartphone that dominates the world today. Here is some potential “what if” questions:

  • What would happen if you take away or eliminate one element or ingredient of the brand?
  • How could you change or improve the brand to use it in a different way?
  • If you could turn the brand services into a physical product what would it look like? Or if you could turn a brand product into a service what would it look like?
  • If you could get your brand quicker or more conveniently to your customer how could you do this (in X months)?
  • If you wanted to offer your customer something free that no one else offers what could it be?
  • If you could change one thing in your company (process, systems, structure, etc.) what would it be? How quickly could you do this?
  • What do you wish your brand could do better if you had the resources to change it?

This isn’t the definitive list of questions but using these and others is a powerful tool that can help you to think differently.


Without Creativity There is No Innovation

You need a safe and collaborative environment to implement any of these ideas effectively. If your brand is about sticking to the rules and follow ridged processes with a mentality of “it won’t work here”, the brand’s life will be shorter. Today’s world demands new innovations. To get to an innovation, you need a great idea. Great ideas come from being creative.

Understand there is no universal recipes for creativity. You need to try these ideas and others to develop your own approach and figure out what works for you and your team. If it was easy you wouldn’t be reading this article. But remember everyone can be creative if they are in the right frame of mind. As American author Elizabeth Gilbert said “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.”

Being creative in and of itself isn’t terrible productive or profitable. The unique idea must create value. In essence, creativity helps stimulate new and unique ideas. If they are good, they can be turned into an innovation that people will line-up to buy.

Creativity is subjective and impossible to measure. Innovation is measurable. When a unique idea is put into action, you can always determine its success or failure. Sometimes you have to go through a number of ideas before you get to a successful innovation. A true brand innovation is one that meets or surpasses your customers’ needs.

A creative culture is also a culture that sees the glass as half-full. Instead of just complaining, employees must feel empowered to actively look for better solutions. Having the permission to be creative and innovative is very powerful.

Successful brands have passionate people who willingly unleash their creativity everyday and understand how it keeps a brand relevant and loved by its customers. Creativity is a beautiful thing.


This is a remake of a previous article A Brand’s Ultimate Weapon – Creativity published April 12, 2015.