gradient circle arrowsInnovation is not a one-time activity.  Many innovative companies are founded on an initial innovative idea, but those companies must continue to innovate if they want to grow.  Successful companies continually look for innovation opportunities that can expand their product offerings, increase sales of existing products or enter a new segment of their market.

Netflix is an example of a company that implements continuous innovation.  Initially, Netflix offered a DVD rental service where DVDs are delivered to a customer’s home by mail.  As online streaming of content increased, Netflix began offering services to stream content directly to customer’s homes.  Many commentators criticized Netflix for this business move because the online streaming service resulted in a drop in revenue from the DVD rental service.  However, based on the popularity of online content streaming, it appears that Netflix made a good decision.

Netflix continues to innovate by streaming its own original programs.  Thus, instead of just providing content distributed by other companies, Netflix now offers its own content.  Additionally, the company has changed the way its own program content is released.  Traditional programs with multiple episodes in a “season” release those episodes once a week over a period of months.  Netflix is changing that traditional model by releasing all episodes of its original programs at the same time.  This allows fans of a program to watch the entire season at their own pace, rather than waiting a week between episodes.

Is your business practicing continuous innovation? If not, today is a perfect day to start discovering innovation opportunities and developing innovative products or services.  Work with other members of your team to identify gaps or unmet needs in your market, then brainstorm to develop solutions that fill those gaps and meet the needs of the market.

AquaNotes Picture

Great product for capturing ideas

I love to feature examples of innovative products.  The product I discuss in this article is a particularly good example because it is an innovative product that helps innovators!  I recently purchased this product, Aqua Notes, which is a notepad that can be used when wet.  This is perfect for a shower, boat, camping trip or a walk in the rain.  I tried the notepad myself, and it works great.  The picture to the left was taken after writing a note while the notepad and pencil were wet.  After the note dried, it was perfectly readable and the paper remained flat – not wrinkled and no curled-up edges.

In previous posts, I have discussed the many different locations where people develop creative ideas.  Over the years, I have talked with many innovators and creative thinkers who often find inspiration while taking a shower.  I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said something like, “someone needs to invent a way to take notes in the shower.”  This product is the answer to that request.  If you are a “creative shower thinker”, this might be the perfect tool for capturing those valuable ideas.

This example illustrates an innovative product that fills a market need.  I was so impressed with the Aqua Notes that I purchased several notepads to give to friends and clients who are creative thinkers.  What can you do in your own business to fill a gap in the marketplace?  Are you talking to customers (or potential customers) and following trends in your industry to identify these gaps?  Filling a gap may not require a new product or service.  Some gaps can be filled by adding a new feature to an existing product or adapting the existing product for sale in a different market segment.

The next time you hear someone in your market say “I wish someone would create a …..”, listen closely – this is valuable information that gives your business an opportunity to fill a marketplace gap.

Have you considered writing a book to help expand your business?  I have lots of innovative ideas to grow my own business and provide valuable information to assist business leaders.  One of my objectives for the coming year is to publish several books related to innovation for small- and medium-sized businesses.  I have already outlined one book that I expect to publish within the next two months.  And, I have scheduled more books to write in the coming year.


Have you considered writing a book to expand your own business?  Here are some reasons to consider publishing a book:

  1. A book positions your business as a leader in its market or industry.
  2. A book establishes you as an expert in your field and a credible business leader.
  3. A book is the ultimate business card.

In the past, publishing a book has been time-consuming and expensive.  However, with today’s electronic publishing systems, publishing a book can be quick and inexpensive.  The Kindle platform has a huge following and provides a great mechanism for publishing books.

My first book is for business leaders who want to learn techniques for applying innovation to grow their business.  I was able to outline the entire book in a weekend, and now I’m writing the content for the various sections of the book.

Watch for my book in the near future!  Please leave a comment below and tell me about your book plans for the coming year.

Welcome to my blog – Innovation Explained.  My name is Steve Sponseller, and I teach entrepreneurs and business leaders how to tap into the power of innovative ideas to grow their business.  I enjoy working with innovative companies and have more than 20 years of experience counseling companies of all sizes in a variety of different industries.  I have worked as an Electrical Engineer and an Intellectual Property attorney – I am also the founder of my own company, Innovation Strategies, Inc.  These experiences give me a unique perspective on business from both the “inside” and the “outside”.

After working with hundreds of business leaders and innovators, I have developed proven systems and techniques to identify, develop and implement innovations in any business.  These innovations can grow your company by increasing revenue, reducing expenses, providing a competitive edge, positioning the company as an “innovator” in the market, and more.  I also “practice what I preach” by applying my innovation systems and techniques in my own company.  Keep watch for my upcoming book:  Innovation Jumpstart.

The first step to creating an innovation strategy is understanding innovation and how to leverage creative ideas in your business.  This blog provides regular information related to business innovation that you can apply in your own company right away.  Get your free report “Innovation Excellence” using the sign-up box on this page (top-right corner) to start developing your own Innovation Strategy.

Many new fitness products are released into the marketplace every year.  A couple months ago I received an innovative new fitness device as a gift.  I love this little gadget and I’m amazed at the innovative features offered by this fitness tracker.  Since I’m always watching for innovative products and services, I was excited to try out this new fitness tracker.

Fitbit Ultra The device, called a fitbit, is a 21st century pedometer (see picture on the left – click the picture to visit the company’s web site).  The old-fashioned pedometers measured the number of steps a person walked each day.  I had one of those old devices many years ago – I used it for a while, but the novelty wore off quickly.  I often had to adjust the device to be sure it was properly registering my steps.  Counting my steps each day was useful, but the device had no other features.  Also, I had to record my steps each day and then reset the pedometer each morning.

But, my new fitbit is a completely different story.  Yes, it counts my steps – but that’s just the beginning.  This device counts the number of stairs climbed each day, the number of calories burned, sleep patterns, and more.  The fitbit wirelessly communicates with my laptop, which automatically stores my daily steps, stairs climbed, and other data.  Also, an app for my smartphone displays this data and lets me enter other information, such as the glasses of water I drink, the food I eat, and more.  I recharge the device about once a week by connecting it to a docking device that connects to my computer.

The small size allows me to easily carry the fitbit in my pocket or clip it on a shirt sleeve or belt.  I find myself looking at the device many times each day and it helps motivate me to go for a quick walk or climb an extra flight of stairs to meet my daily goals.  And, you can “compete” with your friends that also have a fitbit to see who climbs the most stairs in a day, etc.  This social aspect of fitness provides new motivation to be active every day – and lets me participate with friends all over the world.

I love innovative products like this – taking an existing product (pedometer) and putting a new “twist” on the design that completely changes the functionality and usefulness of the product.  Think about the products/services in your own business.  Can you “update” those products/services to create a whole new user experience?  And, if you have a fitbit, let me know so we can have a friendly fitness competition.

Brainstorming is an important tool for developing new ideas for your business.  Brainstorming activities are also useful in solving problems faced by your business or your industry.

Here are three tips to help you get the most out of your brainstorming sessions.

  1. Schedule Brainstorming Time – Put this activity on your calendar so it is not forgotten or pushed aside by another project.  Schedule as much time as you can, but even a 10 minute brainstorming session can generate a long list of creative ideas.
  2. Record Everything – During your brainstorming activities, write down every idea that comes to mind.  Do not filter out any ideas and never continue reading…

Following business trends (both general trends and trends in your particular industry) is important to the health and long-term success of your business.  Staying aware of trends does not mean that you need to be on the “cutting edge” of every trend.  But, you need to watch those trends so that your business does not become obsolete as your competitors leverage those trends to their advantage.

There are many examples of businesses that failed, at least in part, because they did not recognize trends in their own industry.  Blockbuster Video is one example.  There are many stories and theories regarding the reasons for the downfall of Blockbuster.  But, most business analysts agree continue reading…

I was recently shopping for new lunch boxes for my kids to carry their lunch to school.  If you have not shopped for lunch boxes/bags lately, you may be surprised at the number of options.  Hard-sided lunch boxes made of metal or hard plastic.  Soft-sided bags of varying shapes and sizes.  And, of course, a huge variety of colors, designs and cartoon characters.

With previous lunch boxes, we have included a re-usable ice pack to keep the contents of the lunch box cold.  This approach works pretty well, but sometimes the ice pack “crushes” the food or the ice pack begins to leak blue liquid all over the contents of the lunch box.

As I reviewed the vast selection of lunch boxes at a local store, I noticed a new type of soft-sided lunch bag that had “built-in” ice.  The advertising materials for the lunch bag said “No Ice Needed!  It’s Built-In!”.  This innovative design includes a freezable gel in the sides of the lunch bag.  So, instead of putting an ice pack into the lunch bag to keep the contents cool, you put the entire lunch bag in the freezer overnight to chill the gel in the sides of the bag.  In the morning, you take the lunch bag out of the freezer and put the lunch inside.  The frozen gel keeps the contents of the lunch bag cool until lunch time.

I love this idea.  The lunch bag does a wonderful job of keeping the contents cool until lunch time.  I believe it does a better job than the old ice packs we used in the past.  Now I don’t have to worry about leaking ice packs or a shifting ice pack that slides to one end of the lunch bag and only keeps part of the lunch cool.

This creative product is an innovation example that combines two existing products to generate a new product providing new benefits to the customer.  This innovation adds a new feature that simplifies use of the product, rather than making it more complicated.  When looking for ways to provide more value to your own clients, don’t forget to consider simplifying your product or service for the benefit of your client.

There’s a common misconception that innovation is just for large companies.  However, identifying and developing creative ideas can benefit companies of all sizes – including small businesses that are just getting started.  Don’t wait until your business grows to a particular size to begin developing an innovation strategy – you may miss some great opportunities.

You don’t need a Research & Development Department or an Engineering Staff to take advantage of creative thinking in your business.  In fact, many small businesses can bring creative ideas to market faster than large corporations because of their smaller size.  Take advantage of the flexibility available to small companies and start the innovation process today.

Here’s all you need to start leveraging innovative ideas:

  1. At least one person willing to spend some time doing “creative thinking”.
  2. At least one “seed” idea.  This “seed” can be a problem or unmet need in your industry or in your own business.  Creative thinking exercises can start with seed ideas to develop potential solutions to these problems or unmet needs.
  3. A way to record the creative ideas (paper/pencil, computer, audio recorder or a white board) – even a napkin and a crayon works (I’ve done this myself several times in restaurants).  If you use a white board, be sure to take a picture of the board before it’s erased or record the ideas using paper or a computer.
  4. A system to evaluate creative ideas.  I have found that a small group of 4-6 people works well for evaluating creative ideas and refining those ideas into products or services that can be implemented in a business.

This is all you need to get started.  You can add more steps and activities as your innovation strategy develops – but keep things simple in the beginning.

Identifying creative ideas is a great way to grow your business.  Using innovation contests and other activities, your organization can and develop a culture of creativity that generates plenty of creative ideas.  These creative ideas can be developed into innovations that provide considerable value to the business.

However, creating a list of innovative ideas is not enough.  You must take action!

Here are several ways to start taking action:

  1. Evaluate the ideas on your list. Get a group of people from different parts of your business (different job functions) and review the ideas submitted.  Perform a cost-benefit analysis on the most promising ideas.  Initially, look for ideas that can be implemented quickly and are likely to produce a significant result to the bottom line.
  2. Prioritize the ideas. Perform an initial ranking of the ideas – be sure to include ideas that are “short term” projects as well as “long term” projects that take more time or resources to implement, but can provide significant long-term growth for the business.
  3. Take steps to implement one or more of the ideas on the list. Take steps to begin implementing at least one of the ideas on your list.  The first step may be to perform further investigation into the feasibility of the idea – such as seeking input from various groups in the company to determine costs, timing, or potential obstacles to address when implementing the idea.

Track the results of the innovative ideas implemented in your business.  For example, you can track increase in revenue, reduction in expenses and customer growth.  Celebrate the positive results of your innovation to encourage further creativity and innovation.

Start building your list of creative ideas today and take action on those ideas to grow your business.

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