We are always saying to ourselves…we have to innovate. We’ve got to come up with that breakthrough. In fact, the way software works…so long as you are using your existing software…you don’t pay us anything at all. So we’re only paid for breakthroughs. – Bill Gates
Most innovations are not the invention of something completely new, but rather an improvement on something in existence.
Change the Color
When General Motors offered cars that were any color you wanted, rather than Ford’s “any color as long as it’s black” approach, they immediately and critically dislodged Ford’s firm grip on the automotive marketplace. As fashion changed, Levi’s blue jeans had a hit on their hands when they went black. When SKYY vodka went to an unusual blue bottle, their distinctiveness soared.
How might you change the color of your product, packaging, logo, clothing, or appearance to create something new?
Change the Material
When Gary Adams of TaylorMade Golf produced his first metal driver, or the “Pittsburgh Persimmon” as he called it, he revolutionized golf equipment and enjoyed huge success. Later, other innovators would switch from stainless steel to titanium, and then to exotic combinations of metals. Big or small, companies that innovate can find a position of leadership in their industry.
How could you innovate by changing material?
Make It Bigger
In the early 1970s, Prince revolutionized the tennis world when they introduced the oversized racket. The racket had a bigger sweet spot and was easier for the weekend warrior to hit.
Karsten Solheim did exactly the same with Ping golf clubs. By introducing the cavity-backed club, he completely changed the traditional weight distribution and made the sweet spot much bigger. This enabled him to capture the lion’s share of the premium golf club market for 20 years. Two decades later, Ely Callaway would move the very same concept up a notch with the introduction of the Big Bertha driver, profitably followed by even larger models called the Great Big Bertha and the Biggest Big Bertha.
One of the large US hotel chains scored big with NBA teams in a legendary but very simple move. They added longer beds. Can you imagine how hard it must be sleeping in a six-foot bed if you happen to be a seven-foot basketball player?
Could your product or service benefit from being bigger?
Or Make It Smaller
While Callaway convinced the golfing world that bigger was better, Barney Adams introduced Tight Lies fairway woods and Orlimar introduced the TriMetal wood. Both were small companies, both produced small-headed clubs, and both chose to innovate by marketing via infomercials rather than through traditional channels. Orlimar went from grossing $2 million a year to $70 million, while Adams went even higher in the space of a little over a year.
Apple changed the computer business from a world of large mainframes to small desktop models.
The Japanese auto industry changed the American family car from very large to rather small. Later, smart cars took it to a whole smaller level.
Could you make something smaller but better?
Very often a small, seemingly insignificant change in your product’s color, size, or material can have a profound effect on sales.