Innovation is a Tool

Below is an extractfrom Jeffrey Baumgartner’s Report 103, which he has kindly given us permission to reprint. An inspiring post about innovation, and the importance of considering how to innovate.

Jeffrey Baumgartner is from Belgium and when he is not busy writing about creativity he trains individuals and organisations on how to solve problems. And of course, he gives tips and advise on how to improve their creative thinking. Enjoy!


How often do you purchase products primarily because the firms selling those products claim to be highly innovative? Probably never. You may very well have bought certain products that were highly desirable or even essential because of the innovation behind those products, but it is unlikely that the innovation itself was the key selling factor. Rather, it was the result of the innovation that was compelling.
Innovation and Cameras
In fact, innovation has become to business what cameras are to photographers: a tool that gets more attention than it needs. Whenever a couple of photographers get together, they almost inevitably talk about cameras. Amateur photographers will strive to collect a great kit of shiny new cameras, lenses and other equipment. Yet, the camera does not make the photographer. David Bailey was not the seminal fashion photographer of the 60s and 70s because he used Olympus cameras. In fact, Olympus gave the already great photographer free equipment as a marketing action. Elliot Erwit’s charming images owe nothing to his Nikons and Leicas and everything to his sense of humour and keen photographer’s eye.

Nevertheless, cameras are important. A professional photographer needs durable camera bodies, quality optics and other specialised equipment depending on her needs. But whether that camera is a Nikon, a Canon or another brand makes little difference. Whether the flash units used to light a model are Metz or Sunpak matters not at all. Vogue magazine does not hire photographers based on their kit, but rather based on their portfolios and reputations.
What matters is how photographers use that equipment to produce their images – not the equipment that they use.

Merely Tools
The same is true of innovation. It is merely a tool that enables you to achieve your company’s strategic aim. Your customers do not buy from you because the word “innovate” and its derivatives (“innovative”, “innovation”, etc) appear on your home page 27 times. Rather, they buy your product because of the way you use innovation to make your product better than your competitors’ products in one or more ways.

Think about it..
Can you imagine someone telling you, “I use Dash laundry detergent because of Proctor and Gamble’s wonderful open innovation initiative”? Probably not. I doubt that anyone purchases Dash for this reason. Rather they buy Dash because they believe it will clean their clothes better than a competing product. Certainly, Proctor and Gamble’s open innovation initiative may well have contributed to making Dash into a superior product. But it is the results of the initiative and not the initiative that make the product compelling (Disclaimer: I don’t use Dash myself, so I honestly do not know how good it is!)

How many purchasing managers do you think have chosen IBM mainframe computers, over the competitions’ mainframes, simply because IBM regularly holds idea jams that generate tens of thousands of ideas? I do not know, but would guess the answer is very, very close to zero. However, some of the ideas generated during the idea jams may well be a factor in making IBM’s mainframes a more desirable purchase for many a buyer.

It Is Not How Innovative You Are
This is an absolutely critical fact to bear in mind: no one, not a single person, will ever buy your products or services because they are intrinsically more innovative than another company’s or because your company generates more ideas in your suggestion scheme or because you use the word “innovative” in your company slogan. However, they may buy your products and services owing to the results of your innovation initiative. And that is a huge difference.

This means that if you are focusing too much on innovation for innovation’s sake – and that seems to be a trend these days – you need to change your processes and focus on innovation as a tool to achieve the strategic objectives of your company. (See also “Innovation Versus Vision”:

If your company’s strategy is to manufacture the most technologically sophisticated alarm clocks on the planet, then you need to innovate. You need a strong research and development team who can monitor, develop and implement cutting edge alarm clock technology to ensure that you remain the sector leader. And if they succeed, your customers will continue to pay a premium for your cutting edge clocks. But, innovation is not the only tool you’ll need. You will also need to communicate to your employees, your suppliers, your shareholders, your customers and your potential customers that you produce the highest of high tech alarm clocks. You will need to hire employees who can help you achieve this strategic aim. You will need to find suppliers who can provide you with the quality parts you need.

So, remember: no one will ever buy from you because of how innovative you are. Rather, they buy from you because of how you innovate.

Thanks Jeffrey for letting us use your material!

Photo: Book And Word Growing TREE by basketman

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