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The Innovation Series: Part Three Iconoclasts, Purple Cows, and Innovators
Mike Wynne's Global Profit Builder
The Innovation Series: Part Three
Iconoclasts, Purple Cows, and Innovators
March 2007
In this issue
-- Challenging Your Industry's Traditions
-- Iconoclasts
-- The Right 'Wrong' Way
-- Sacred Cows, Purple Cows, and Innovators
-- Re-inventing the Circus
-- Breaking Patterns

Challenging Your Industry's Traditions
Traditions are associated with historical occasions, ceremonies, and royal families. In today's fast changing markets, however, it's what's new that gets customers' attention. Or, as one marketing guru put it, "If your product is not new, it's through." By challenging your industry's traditions you may find a source of inspiration for innovation that will differentiate your product in your customers' minds and generate a powerful competitive advantage.

  • Become an Iconoclast. The original meaning of the word Iconoclast was: Someone who destroys images (icons). Nowadays, it has evolved to mean: One who assails traditional beliefs. To become an innovator you must challenge your industry?s traditions!!!

  • Whatever your industry, profession, or field, constantly analyze their patterns and traditions. Ask ?why?? about everything. Famous 20th century Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, ?Some look at things that are and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? By looking at the categories and traditions of your industry, you will not only see how they can be eliminated, reduced, merged, and improved , but you will also see what can be created to fill gaps and needs that still need satisfying

The Right ?Wrong? Way
  • Doing things the traditional way, supposedly the right way, makes you boring, just one of the pack; you?re just doing what everybody else does. Why not break the pattern, and do it the wrong way just to see what happens. By 'wrong' way, I mean the opposite way, not that you should knowingly pursue failure. Sometimes, the wrong way turns out to be the right one.

    In July of 1938, a pilot by the name of Douglas Corrigan, requested permission to fly his small single-engine aircraft across the Atlantic. The permission was denied; aviation authorities felt that the aircraft would not make it. Corrigan then filed a flight plan for a trip from New York to California - and then flew in the opposite direction landing safely in Ireland 29 hours later.

    Asked how he could possibly have flown over the ocean and not known it, Corrigan smiled and said that his compass had failed, and he 'had merely flown the wrong way.' The media labeled him ' Wrong-Way Corrigan'

    Although Corrigan never admitted his 'mistake'was an innovative ruse, the public celebrated the fact that he accomplished the feat by finding an innovative way to get around unimaginative restrictions.

  • Sometimes, the 'Wrong Way' is the right innovative way to solve a problem. Innovation is about looking at reality in a different way, breaking away from convention.

What is the Right 'Wrong Way' for Your Business?

Sacred Cows, Purple Cows, and Innovators
So how do you follow the path from iconoclast to innovator?

  • Start out by identifying the Sacred Cows of your industry - then slaughter them. What are the most revered beliefs and practices of your particular field? They are the Sacred Cows. What happens if you get rid of them? What happens if you change them into a different type of cow? A famous rhyme of years ago said,

    I've never seen a purple cow,

    Or hope to be one,

    But, I'd rather see than be one.

  • Nowadays, something as radically different as a Purple Cow might be just the right thing to be. Traditionally, professional speakers have always tried their best to make audiences love them. Speaker Larry Wingate, however, has become successful by criticizing his audiences? business behaviors and traditions as a means to get them to change, which they usually desperately need to do if they are to survive.

  • While Wingate may appear to insult his audiences, he does not insult their intelligence. On the contrary, he gets them to examine their beliefs and practices, and consider new alternatives and they respect him for it. Wingates harsh approach is his 'shtick', but his message is the value he delivers. Is he a Purple Cow or a Wrong-Way Corrigan? It doesn't matter; what counts is that he gets the attention of his audiences.

  • Revered beliefs and practices in business are changing every day. In a constantly changing world, no one can survive by doing the same old things repeatedly. Examine those of your field, and question both their existence and validity.

    What Are the Traditions That You Should Challenge?

Re-inventing the Circus
  • Ever been to a circus? When you walk inside the big tent, you see the stands, buy some cotton candy, and sit down to watch the clowns, the acrobats, the animal acts, the trapeze artists, the man shot out of the cannon, the elephants, the lion and tiger trainer, and so on. After a few years of going to the circus, does it grow old? Do you get tired of seeing the same old things, the same acts, the same routines?

  • Do you hunger for something more exciting, something with greater impact and charm? Try Cirque du Soleil. It usually takes place in a theater where the seating is more comfortable, and it doesn?t smell of animal dung. Further, it is different; the show combines music, acrobatics, dance, special lighting, acting, and stories. Cirque du Soleil took the best of the classical circus and blended it with the best of theater, music, and art. Cirque du Soleil not only challenged industry tradition, it smashed it to bits! But the outcome was totally new, and people flocked to see the new concept, which has now grown into several different Cirque du Soleil shows.

Breaking Patterns
  • Industries tend to pigeonhole companies into categories. Some companies are viewed as producers of higher priced premium products, and others of popular low-priced items. Neither is considered as possibly doing what the other does. Yet, that pattern didn?t seem to faze the Japanese auto companies. Originally pigeonholed as producers of cheap, small cars, over the years they have morphed into manufacturers of very high quality, full price, and even luxury vehicles.

  • Dell computer broke the pattern of selling through retail outlets. By selling online and by telephone, Dell was able to under price competitors who sold through retail outlets. Dell?s margins were also far superior to those of its competitors who stayed in the traditional retail mode.

  • Phoenix University broke the traditional patterns higher education organizations by offering its courses online. As a result, almost every university has copied the idea, but Phoenix is way ahead of all its competitors in that field.

  • Starbucks is another example of challenging industry traditions. Coffee was sold in restaurants, diners, and fast food shops, but it was never a specialty. Starbucks opened up the coffee shop that specialized in making and offering a variety of top quality coffees, and the rest is history.

  • Jack Benny, the popular star of radio and television, was once asked why his style was so different from that of so many other comedians. Benny answered, 'I couldn't talk as fast as the other comedians so I had to develop a style that was funny because it was slow.'

  • Another way that Benny broke the pattern set by other comedians was that on his show he was the butt of the jokes, which gave his cast the opportunity to shine in his stead. As a result, while other comedians? shows were all about them and soon tired the public, Benny's show went on for decades because the entire cast of characters was popular.

  • Yet another innovation on Benny's show was that instead of having the announcer break in to read commercials, Benny integrated the commercials into the story of the show and made them funny.

    Your Turn to Break With Tradition!

Innovation has been around since the dawn of human history. That's what happened to the Neanderthal; their world changed and they didn't. Without constant innovation, Homo Sapiens wouldn't have survived either. Bottom line: Check what everyone else is doing, challenge it, and maybe improve it, but especially consider doing just the opposite. Do that and you just might become the successful Wrong-Way Corrigan of your industry, or a Purple Cow that attracts lots of customers.

Note. If your sales are not growing as much as you would like, it may be because your products or services are not differentiated enough in the minds of your customers; they are being viewed as commodities. Time for innovation!!!

In today's markets, companies that are not reinventing themselves constantly will lose their customers. Why run that risk? Start a complete innovation drive in your business. Want to create an innovation culture that constantly generates new and exciting products and services? Start with an Innovation Retreat, a creative meeting designed to develop an innovation system that gets everyone involved in continuous creation and invention. For more information, contact Michael Wynne at International Management Consulting Associates, call 630 420 2605, or e-mail him at

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