Learning Re-Imagined

Skillsoft Blog

Throw Back Thursday: finding innovation

We receive so much valuable content from our customers, partners and
internal subject-matter experts. On Thursdays, we thought it would be fun to do
a “throw back” and bring back an older post that was valuable to our audience.
Today’s throw back discusses how to find innovation.

To find innovation, start with your own skill, love and
purpose

By Shawn Hunter

In late 1953 the Swanson brothers had a glut of turkey.  They were turkey
wholesalers and had overestimated the market.  So now they had 235 metric tons
of turkey riding around the U.S. in refrigerated rail cars and the executive
team was wondering what to do.  Can’t you just imagine the CFO showing charts of
what it cost to have all those turkeys rolling around on refrigerated rail cars
per day?

Gerry Thomas, a sales executive at Swanson, had just seen what
Pan American Airlines was doing with compartmentalized in-flight food
offerings.  He and the executive team at Swanson coupled this notion with Clarence Birdseye’s
new flash freezing technique, and then added the catchy product label “TV
Dinner” that fit beautifully with the cultural explosion of television.  Their
great market opportunity was the eight million moms who were joining the
workforce after WWII, who were also enjoying an abundance of electrical home
appliances like ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and of course
televisions.

Swanson prepared to sell five thousand units the first
year.  They sold ten million at .98 cents each.  Big hit, and now you understand
how the intersection of technology, inspiration, marketing and resources made it
happen.  But does that formula work again today in 2010?  Here’s the difference
now:

Resources
are scarce, not abundant:
From water to textiles to lumber,
the availability and premium placed on the natural resources we use to create
the consumer products and comestibles are in high demand and, in the case of
fossil fuels and water particularly,
are increasingly precious.

Talent is global, not local:
Historically if you had a local workforce that was obedient,
diligent, and brought expertise and skill to bear executing on top-driven
strategies, you had competitive advantage.  The future is most certainly now in
terms of the ability to connect need with a globally-dispersed labor force –
highly talented, motivated, and comparatively cheap by U.S. standards.  And all
connected by the cost of the internet (free).  The skilled talent, regardless of
source, is indeed not free, but increasingly any function that can be made
routine, and reduced to if=then equations which bracket to a correct answer, can
also be automated.  Consider telemedicine, the in
absentia health care solution to everything from fast, cheap review of MRIs,
mammograms, and all manners of diagnostics.  You get an X-Ray in the afternoon
in Illinois and the scan is reviewed by a U.S board-certified physician in
India, and returned overnight – or even immediately – over the
web.

Innovation is democratized, not top-driven: No
longer can firms rely on the wisdom of a handful of insightful strategists at
the top of a pyramid, when meanwhile companies like Rabobank
or Best Buy are doing a better job of catering to customer need by creating
mechanisms to actively listen to, and incorporate the interests of customers,
and know-how of line personnel.

People are creative and expressive, not compliant: Pick your muse on this but currently I’ll

take Sir Ken Robinson right now,
who is on a crusade to persuade people that by pursuing their passions, they
will make greater contributions, build community value, and importantly find
fulfillment in their endeavors.  In his book, he profiles Matt Groening (created
the pitch for The Simpsons on the spot in a meeting), Mick Fleetwood (bailed on
high school at 16 to be a jazz drummer in London), Gillian Lynne (deemed an
underachiever until enrolled in a dance school), and many others, who eschewed
the proper ‘safe’ advice of elders, or were recognized by mentors for who they
were, to pursue their passions to great ends.

Technology is still
changing:
And too rapidly to adequately understand the implications.
Try this for analogy: “If you’re not shocked by quantum theory, you don’t
properly understand it.” (Neils Bohr on Einstein’s new theory of relativity. )
Or to wrestle with the power of collaborative technologies, try this
fun video.

The point is this: You don’t need to be up for the
challenge of constantly creating magnificent products and services that the
world suddenly realizes it has been missing for fulfillment (think
iPad right now
).  The iPhone didn’t exist 5 years ago and now you need one.
Think rather, what am I good at, love to do, and provides purpose and meaning in
my life and the lives of others.  Focus on that and you will give value and
meaning to the world and to yourself.

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