Business Innovation Sweetspots: 5 Places, 5 Qualities… and 8 Truths

Innovation QuoteThere is not just one place where business innovation can thrive.  But some places are better than others.

Innovation on the Factory Floor

At Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky car factory there’s an empty space the size of a basketball court where Top Coat Booth C used to be.  In Booth C, every car spent 10 hours in painting.  Toyota threw out 30% of the paint it bought when cleaning unused paint from hoses and applicators during color changes.  Now, a car is painted in 8 hours.  Seventy gallons are used instead of 100, and there’s almost no cleanup.  Toyota unplugged and carted away an oven big enough to “bake” the finish on 25 cars simultaneously.  But Top Coat Booth C’s maintenance engineer’s weren’t laid off… they refocused their attention on the next round of paint shop changes.  For Toyota, the paint-shop improvements aren’t “projects” or “initiatives.” They are the work, every day, every week.

Courtesy of FastCompany

Innovation at the Service Counter

Northside Social in Arlington, Virginia is changing the way coffee is delivered by letting the customers finish brewing their own coffee.  When I order a carafe of coffee I get a cup, a french press… and an old-fashioned sand-in-the-glass egg timer.   The coffee finishes brewing at my table, and the egg timer tells me exactly when to press the plunger for the perfect carafe.  I get my coffee faster.  The baristas cut their prep time in half.  And I helped make my own morning.  Innovation delivered, no technology needed.

Courtesy of Northside Social Coffee & Wine

Innovation in the Warehouse

At Amazon’s fulfillment facilities, at the end of the packing process, packages move along conveyor belts to the SLAM (Scan, Label, Apply, Manifest) station.  The package is weighed to ensure it is the anticipated weight (and that therefore the right items are inside). The station also scans the barcode on the package and prints and adds an address label to the package.  The whole process takes less than 1 second per package.

Courtesy of

Innovation at the “Customer’s Facility”

When the Charleston school district handed kindergarten teacher Kristi Meeuwse a box of 30 iPads for her students, she called it a “game changer.”   Meeuwse used the free iBooks Author app on Mac to create her first book for iPad, called My City, about their home town of Charleston.

“My students loved it. And they thought it was cool I was writing it.” Meeuwse went on to create books on subjects like spiders, dirt bikes, and baby animals. “My students are excited when they can tap on a button and make a spider move across the page,” says Meeuwse. “Or when, as they count to ten, an image rotates and counts with them. None of the print books in our book center have any of this.”

In the past, about 35% of Meeuwse’s students would enter first grade reading above grade level. Now, for the second year in a row, 100% of her students are moving on reading above grade level.

Courtesy of Apple Computer

Innovation at Headquarters

“Where’s headquarters?”

“Anywhere, that’s where.  Give us a 4g LTE-capable smartphone, a tablet and a good keyboard (or a phablet),  some cloud storage, and a half-dozen well chosen productivity apps.  We can run a business from anywhere.  Headquarters just become an IP address.”

Courtesy of Ixxan Inc.

Jobs for Business Innovators

What about jobs for innovators?  The list, honestly, is almost endless.  The key isn’t in the job title or even the position description.  It’s the mindset and qualities we bring to it.  We need to bring 5 skills… or learn them:

  1. I know how to describe my job, beginning to end, as a set of related activities.
  2. I know how to describe what I receive as raw material, and what I produce and hand off.
  3. I know how to ask what my boss, and my boss’s boss, believe is the valuable thing I produce.
  4. I know how to ask myself “why” about every part of my job.
  5. I know how to ask “what if…”

Business Innovation Truths

Today, much of what we read about innovation is misleading, so let’s set the record straight:

  • We don’t need a costly education in a fashionable discipline to be an innovator.
  • Technology isn’t the only way to innovate; process change is even more powerfully beneficial.
  • Innovation is more than automation;  innovation doesn’t have to be job killer.
  • Innovation doesn’t have to be hit or miss; rather, it’s most powerful when it’s purposeful and planned.
  • Innovation is much more than The Next Big Thing; small and incremental changes for the better add value (and lots of it, when done time after time).
  • Innovation can happen in organizations large and small, public and private, commercial or philanthropic; it’s the preparation and execution that foster success.
  • Innovations can happen to people, too.  Starting with what we do, every day.
  • Like entrepreneurship, innovation can’t be taught, but it can be learned.

Chances are, there’s a business innovation sweetspot somewhere in your office, or some time during your workday.  It’s probably right under your nose.  Really.

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  1. Hi, should innovation be your top priority?

  2. Syed Muhammad Abdur Rehman says:

    [Innovate at the “Customer’s Facility”] was really interesting and adorable to be honest. These are some really good steps. If Steve Jobs was still alive iPhone 6 would not have been such a failure as it is now. But what we mortal shells can do….Alas!

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