The Innovation Series: Part Three
Iconoclasts, Purple Cows, and Innovators
In this issue
-- Challenging Your Industry's Traditions
-- 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
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
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
Right 'Wrong Way' for
Doing things the traditional way, supposedly the
right way, makes you boring, just one of the
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
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
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
Sacred Cows, Purple Cows, and Innovators
So how do you follow the path from iconoclast to
Start out by identifying the Sacred Cows of
industry - then slaughter them. What are the
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
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
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
Cow or a Wrong-Way Corrigan? It doesn't matter;
what counts is that he gets the attention of his
Revered beliefs and practices in business are
changing every day. In a constantly changing
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
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
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.
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
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
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
(630) 420 2605