How to Be an Innovator

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When the world economy hit a pothole in late 2008, business leaders executed a predictable and in many cases responsible strategy of cost-reduction. While those steps were important, immediate, defensive business strategies in the face of declining revenues, they had to be balanced with the need to invest in customer-focused innovation to position those businesses for future economic recovery. In essence, you can’t cost-cut your way to organic growth and sustainable profitability.

It is heartening to see many senior leadership teams with whom I work, poking their heads out of their defensive bunkers and engaging conversations about “customer-centric innovation” in the face of a slow but seemingly sustainable recovery.

Given the increase in these discussions, I thought it might be valuable to share observations I have made about innovation across the course of my career. These observations are nothing more than an amalgam of conclusions I’ve drawn from colleagues or consulting experiences. I welcome your thoughts, your dissent, and your additions to this bullet-point list of considerations that I hope will cause you to contemplate what “innovation” truly entails. For me,

Innovation typically comes in two major forms – technology push or customer pull.

Technology push innovation comes when a new class of products evolving out of a technology breakthrough.



Customer pull emerges from products or services generated in response to a compelling customer need.

Most great innovation involves both technology push and customer pull elements.

Invention is not innovation. Invention is a necessary but not sufficient condition for innovation.

Invention alone leads to patents or intellectual property but not necessarily financial success.

By definition innovation is the process by which “ideas translate into profits.”

Innovation is not limited to product development but is an approach to improve cost containment, supply-chain efficiencies, and all other important business processes.

Successful innovation companies place the customer in the middle of all strategy decisions.

Innovators protect their intellectual properties but do not hoard their knowledge or act in isolation.

Innovative businesses include prospective customers in all stages of the innovation process. They start with the voice of the customer in the idea phase and incorporate ongoing input to guide the prototype, manufacturing, distribution and marketing phases of their product and service journey.

Companies that develop an innovative culture have core competencies in collaboration and customer analytics. (They seek an “immersive” understanding of the wants, needs, and desires of their core markets both with their business-to business customers and their business-to-consumer segments.)

Most importantly you do not need to be a nanotechnologist to be an innovator. You and a few like-minded impassioned colleagues can create a disciplined set of processes that imbed innovation in all you do!

In the spirit of engaging a collaborative dialogue, I want engage YOU in the process of my next book. Having just finished my book manuscript draft on the “patient experience” at UCLA health systems scheduled for release later this year, I am starting my research on yet another book which will be released by McGraw-Hill in 2011.



As a first step in the upcoming book journey, I thought I would try to pique your interest in the new book topic by creating a contest to see if you can identify the customer-centric business I will be writing about for 2011.

I will select 5 winners from the correct answers and send them each a $20 Starbucks gift card. Each day between now and June 1st, I will give hints about the company or projects at twitter (my username is josephmichelli). I will formally announce the book title and company on June 1st along with the winners. Email your guesses to: [email protected] There is no limit to the number of guesses you can submit.

After the announcement, I will look forward to hearing the content you would like to have addressed in the book and let you have sneak peeks as the manuscript is progressing.

Thanks for being on my “innovation” team!

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