Thursday, April 19, 2012

Innovation: powder chasers with a wild dream?

What is innovation?

Inspiration. Risk. Knowledge seeking. Hypotheses. Prototype testing. Demonstration. Market penetration...

Probably all of the above, but I want to focus on inspiration and risk.

How do the best companies out there innovate? You know them, they are the ones people follow for the next big thing. The newest materials and shapes. Chances are these companies have some gifted employees that are dreamers or full-on nutty types. They are asking themselves, "can I take this material used in this application and apply it in my product" or "how can I reduce material or use it better"? They are inspired by something they see in nature or in a dream.  There are some really talented people out there who are true innovators. There are also people out there that are paid innovators with degrees in chemistry, materials science, and engineering.There are followers and there are doers and innovation is a game between the two schools.

There are also two schools that view innovation different, simply put old school/new school. Old schoolers view status quo and new schoolers, honestly don't care about acceptance. They don't care at this point about what you think or what's going on in the business. They are underground. Chances are you are one or the other.  The old schoolers may move into innovation with experience and $ and investors and $ and time. The new schoolers don't care about making money (some may...) Call it a company, but new schoolers are really a collective of like types. They ask "what if" and they bounce ideas, and they take risks. Big risks that sometimes don't pay off, but every once in a while.

How does this come back into sustainability?

The topic of "green business" "eco-friendly" and sustainability is coming into its age. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index and businesses publishing Corporate Sustainability reports are real. There is market research that show consumers are willing to spend their money on companies who account for environmental decisions in their business practices. Some businesses have seized this new paradigm shift and some are playing catch-up. The ones playing catch-up are asking themselves, "who can do this for us"? "how much money I am going to have to invest"? Are these companies green-washing or are they taking a serious look at their operations or materials?

Old schoolers are uncomfortable disrupting a good thing. They believe the company is under control and don't need to improve. Sustainability is like un-peeling an onion and it stinks. It stinks to the tune of a lot of dollars and time.

What's my point? Innovation.

Status quo with the rest or long-term sustainable life, company, earth.

New schoolers view the stinky onion as leading to breakthoughs.

There are a lot industries where breakthrough technologies will determine our continued existence like power and medicine. There are industries like sports and recreation that won't determine our existence, but serve to fulfill our soul and well-being. Even though the sports industry and the snowboarding industry is small compared to multi-billion dollar global companies, industries watch each other. People are influenced by others actions. People can utilize their buying power and start trends.