You don't need a lightbulb to go off to be innovative. As Sawhney, Wolcott, and Arroniz (2006) noted in their Sloan Management Review 47(3): 78, there are at least "12 Different Ways for Companies to Innovate" -- and over the next several weeks, we will examine illustrations of each.
Of course, one is in new offerings, either products or services. A huge area of opportunity is in the realm of sustainability, i.e., reducing the environmental impact of your offerings. This impact should be evaluated all the way through the product or service's life cycle, from direct materials, to operations, to transportation and post-sales service. If you produce clothes, can you innovate to eliminate the need for dry cleaning? If you provide lawn service, can you branch into xeriscaping to reduce water consumption? If your offerings include polymers, can you switch to recycled plastics?
A related opportunity is called "upcycling," essentially taking recycling to a new level (pun intended!). Rather than dispose of waste to be recycled, consider how it might be repurposed with added value. I have a friend who builds furniture out of pallets. When I toured a Frito-Lay potato chip plant, I learned that they reclaim the starch removed from potatoes for clothing use. Instead of discarding the dough from the hole in the donut, Dunkin' Donuts created the Munchkin.
Product upgrades are an obvious opportunity for new offerings. But consider whether a downgrade might be of interest to new customers. Is there a simpler, lower-cost version of what you offer that might appeal to an audience that you are currently missing -- and to whom you might be able to up-sell in the future? Not only might that work in your local or domestic market, it may give you a way to introduce your products into developing countries. General Electric does it and calls it "reverse engineering." Instead of creating a product for the industrialized world (to eventually diffuse into developing countries), it innovates for the more basic needs in poorer countries.
So you don't have to wait for a lightbulb to go off for that next great product. Be deliberate and think about ways to extend your existing offerings and create new revenue streams.
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