Successful innovators don’t care about innovating

Successful innovators care about solving interesting and important problems — innovation is merely a byproduct. SPONSOR CONTENT

December 26, 2014 |
Steven Burns

Successful innovators care about solving interesting and important problems — innovation is merely a byproduct.

A recent Harvard Business Review article emphasizes that a focus on innovation tends to be born from self-centered motives, while a focus on solving interesting and important problems tends to be born from customer-centered motives.

To make the point, the piece highlights paint maker Sherwin-Williams, whose customer research uncovered the fact that painting contractors tend to make paint-buying decisions based more on proximity to job site than brand of paint. This led to a hypothesis that saturating a market with stores to ensure there’s a store close to any job site will produce outsized market share growth.

Sherwin-Williams tested the hypothesis in four markets and it worked. But as the company tried rolling it out to more markets, competitors quickly caught on. Suddenly it became a race for real estate and competitive advantage was lost.

During the 2009 recession, Sherwin-Williams’ competitors started shuttering stores to cut costs. Despite strong shareholder pushback, Sherwin-Williams did the opposite, opening 60 to 100 stores per year during the downturn. It was a risky bet, but they didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be close to customers when the market inevitably rebounded. When it did rebound, revenue growth far outstripped that of competitors.

“We’ve always looked at business more like dating than war,” says Sherwin-Williams Senior Vice President Bob Wells. “In war, you’re focused on beating the competition. In dating you’re focused on strengthening a relationship. That difference of perspective has a million knock-on effects for how decisions get made.”

The article underscores that successful innovation begins as a mindset rather than a process or outcome.

“It’s characterized by a dogged determination to see the world through your customers’ eyes,” writes article author Doug Sundheim.

So how can you foster this mindset?

“Disabuse yourself of the notion that innovation is some high-minded creative process reserved for a certain class of people,” Sundheim continues. “Remember that most great innovations have been developed by regular people inspired by a problem.”

“Get out of the building and talk to your customers. Listen to their challenges. Come up with back-of-the-envelope, harebrained ideas about how you can help them. Get comfortable with the idea that you’ll throw 99% of those envelopes in the trash. When you lose your motivation, go back to the problem statement. Never stray from the problem statement. Let it inspire you. Let it lead you.”

Read more from Harvard Business Review

Steven Burns | The Business Behind Design

Steven Burns, FAIA spent 14 years managing the firm Burns + Beyerl Architects, and during that time the firm’s earnings grew at an average rate of 24% per year. After founding his own software company, Steve took his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is refining their business strategy and product development for the company’s groundbreaking project accounting solution, BQE Core.

Related Blogs

January 03, 2018 | The Business Behind Design

Follow these networking strategies to grow your architectural business with the work that you want.

December 28, 2017 | The Business Behind Design

While standard financial accounting is essential for the health of your business, project accounting helps...

December 12, 2017 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

The most cited issues are communication breakdowns, inadequate fees for the work provided, and unrealistic...

November 30, 2017 | The Business Behind Design

There are techniques you can use with your invoices that both highlight your firm’s value and make the proc...

November 16, 2017 | Architects | The Business Behind Design

Many small AEC firms don’t feel they have the time to focus and create clear marketing messages.

November 08, 2017 | BIM and Information Technology | The Business Behind Design

While AEC firms may not have the vast quantity of financial information that certain other types of busines...

November 03, 2017 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

Having a clearly defined competitive brand and a fine-tuned marketing approach can give your firm a signifi...

October 26, 2017 | Industry Research | The Business Behind Design

Here are 5 ways to avoid a cash crunch by doing your part to help clients make their payments on time.

October 19, 2017 | AEC Tech | The Business Behind Design

For firms looking to propel their architectural design services to new heights and levels of sophistication...

October 03, 2017 | Designers | The Business Behind Design

Generally speaking, millennials want to be where the action is.

Overlay Init