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The Innovation Series: Part Five
Mike Wynne's Global Profit Builder
The Innovation Series: Part Five June 2007
In this issue
-- Think Outside of Traditional Categories
-- Life is Full of Categories
-- Define Your Business
-- What are your core strengths?
-- What other needs do your customers have?
-- The best, and most recent, example of thinking outside traditional categories...
-- Is Oscar de La Hoya just a boxer?
-- Speaking of boxers, have you bought your "George" yet?
-- You could end up like Xerox
-- Do you need to grow?

Think Outside of Traditional Categories
Become More Than What You're "Supposed" to Be!


Life is Full of Categories
Fill out a form for anything, and it will automatically try to place you in categories such as age, gender, area of residence, marital status, contact information such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses and fax numbers, and a great variety of other classification slots.

It is almost a conspiracy to place people in boxes throughout their entire lives until they are placed in that final box, the coffin; even then, the classification and grouping goes on.

Your business faces the same challenge; every one wants to put it in a category box. You even do it to yourself by using an "elevator speech" to quickly place your business and what you do in another easy-to-identify box.

But - that is not all that you can be. Nor is it all that your business can be. Too quickly, people get in the habit of thinking that what they currently do is what they are, and, therefore, all that they can become. Innovation is about breaking out of the categories and boxes in which the rest of the world places you, your businesses, and your products. That is why this issue of the Innovation Series is titled:


Whatever your business, think outside the traditional categories of your industry, such as Luxury, Exclusive, Popular, Teen, High Price, Low Price, Prevention, Repair, Improvement, Mobility, Portability, and so on.

You (and your clients) define what business and specialties you are in. In the previous issue of this series, I made reference to an In-flight Food Service company, Goddard Enterprises, that is faced with the challenge created by their clients the airlines who no longer want to serve free meals on board. This is a situation where the need to think outside traditional categories is being created by the customers. Could the same thing happen to your business? You bet it could!

That is why you need to think through, not only what business (or businesses) you are in, but also which ones you should be in if you are to grow. Here are some thoughts for you to consider:

Define Your Business
What business are you really in? For example, is Ford in the auto manufacturing business? Or, is it in the business of providing people with the freedom of getting from Point A to Point B when and where they want without depending public transportation? If this is so, then it opens up a plethora of possibilities that could move Ford into such things as rental services, automated highway systems, and maybe even teleportation - if they can figure out a way to develop it.

What are your core strengths?
What do you do well, or better than others? How can you build on those strengths? For example, if you are in the bakery business, when is a bakery no longer a bakery? Take a look at Corner Bakery facilities around the country. Do they only serve baked products? No, they serve a variety of different foods, and provide tables and chairs for customers to eat what they buy. Is Corner Bakery a bakery, a restaurant or a fast food outlet? Maybe all three, but is also a place where people meet to socialize and talk without incurring in the expense of a full-fledged meal.

What other needs do your customers have?
What other needs do your customers have that your business could do an excellent job of serving just by using your core strengths in new ways? For example, are gas stations just providers of gasoline, or are they also convenience stores? What other conveniences could they offer? How could they help customers save time, purchase greater convenience, and maybe even save money? What are some of a gas station's core strengths? Location and long working hours. Thus, customers who need to tank up their cars, at any time can also purchase a variety of other products and services that the gas station supplies without the need to even add more employees.

The best, and most recent, example of thinking outside traditional categories...
The best, and most recent, example of thinking outside traditional categories - thinking beyond your own industry (see the previous Innovation Series issue, Think Beyond Your Own Industry ), and building on your core strengths, is Apple Computer. Steve Jobs took Apple's computer miniaturization strengths and software development outside of both the computer industry and its categories, and used them to enter the downloaded music industry. The result: Ipod and Itunes. They provide music freedom of choice and portability. What company would have been the logical choice to provide these products and services - but didn't? SONY! SONY missed the boat by not leveraging its aging Walkman to match today's trends; the company got stuck in its traditional category.

Is Oscar de La Hoya just a boxer?
No, he now has built a fight promotion company that sets up and manages major events. Core strengths? They are his knowledge of the business, his likeable personality, his fame and popularity, and his connections - all of which provide him with both opportunity and resources. Not only did he think outside the box of his category - the boxing ring, he moved into the Sports Events industry.

Speaking of boxers, have you bought your "George" yet?
George Foreman's popularity as a former heavyweight boxing champion, and his ability to promote products, services -- and himself primarily, made it possible for him to persuade a cooking products company to name an innovative product after him. (He also named each of his sons George. Not very imaginative either.) Foreman moved outside both category and industry.

You could end up like Xerox
You could end up like Xerox if you look at a new product or service and think it doesn't "fit" your industry. Xerox developed some of the most significant inventions of modern times, and passed them over because they were not copier-related. By staying within its comfort zone, Xerox severely limited its potential.

Do you need to grow?
Yes, you definitely do, and innovation is one the best ways to do so. If you come up with a new product or service that has interesting potential, you will have move out of your comfort zone. If you do, as 3M did with the Post-It, you can create a whole new market niche that may grow forever.

Bottom Line. Whatever you call yourself or your business, it may be the very thing that is keeping you from growing beyond it. Don't allow yourself the false security of a category label to box you in a no-win situation. Remember:

  • Get out of the box!

  • Define your business

  • What business are you really in?

  • What are your core strengths?

  • What other needs do your customers have?

  • How might you apply your core strengths to serving those needs better than anyone else?
You've got what it takes! Get out there and innovate!

Got Innovation? Stuck in a slow-growth industry?

Want to grow? Need to make more profit?

Time to do something about it!!! Contact Michael Wynne, president of International Management Consulting Associates; call (630) 420 2605, or e-mail Be sure to check out our web site

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