Speaker: Stay innovative to survive in business

October 10, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The way to survive in business is to remain innovative.

That was the message of national innovation speaker Robert Tucker, who addressed about 120 people Wednesday morning at Chatmoss Country Club. The talk was sponsored by Martinsville Henry County Economic Development Corp. and The Harvest Foundation.

Tucker is the president and founder of The Innovation Resource. He has appeared on national television, and his research has led to numerous books, including his latest, “Innovation is Everybody’s Business.”

“Every organization does not survive,” Tucker said. Survival for “the next three years won’t be a question of if we innovate. It’s how we innovate.”

He pointed out some companies that at one time were the leaders in their field but did not keep up — Blackberry, Blockbuster, Newsweek, AOL and Best Buy.

“Blackberry had 53 percent market share” in smart phones, he said. “Now (it has) 3 percent.”

It is important for organizations to keep planning ahead and anticipating directions because “one minute you’re hiking along the trail. The next minute, you’re Blackberry,” he said.

Tucker has worked with more than 200 Fortune 500 companies. “In talking to all the CEOs, I kept hearing this: ‘I’ve got great people, but no innovation. They keep waiting for me to tell them what to do,’” he said.

Being innovative depends on five things, Tucker said:

1. Mindset: Organizations, and the people who work for them, have to be open to improvement and change, Tucker said.

About a third of all key inventions and other improvements come from “happy accidents,” Tucker said. They are discoveries that come up while the people in charge were working on other things. For example, erectile dysfunction drug Viagra was an experimental heart drug that was supposed to “stimulate receptors for the heart (but) accidentally stimulated receptors elsewhere.”

For the other two-thirds, people must create innovation. Managers should encourage workers at all levels to make suggestions. One company had great success based on the recommendations of a receptionist. When customers called to complain, she listened carefully and noted their complaints. Then she asked their opinions on what the company could do to prevent the problem. She passed all of that information on to the company, which took it seriously.

2. Become a standout collaborator: Tucker suggested “igniting collaboration” by forming teams, but he cautioned not to let the team be too big. It should be an intimate enough group that everyone, even the most shy, feels part of the team.

Rule of thumb: “If you can’t feed your team with a single pizza, your team is too big.”

3. Assault your assumptions: Tucker said people should view things analytically, not just continue doing things as before.

He gave the example of car company Hyundai, which saw 14 percent growth in December 2008, “the depth of the Great Recession,” when other car companies were on the verge of collapse, he said.

Other car companies were focusing on the same old thing — the dealer rebate. Hyundai went to the root of the problem, Tucker said. The company determined that people were afraid of not being able to keep paying for a new car. The company offered a one-year, no-cost return guarantee. If the purchaser lost his job, or for any other reason, he could return the car and not be saddled with the payments.

4. “Build the buzz for new ideas.”

Sometimes a great idea is met with rejection. The way to deal with that is to anticipate the objections ahead of time and address them directly. That involves creating a simple prototype; doing research; using the right communication style for the occasion; and being quietly persistent, building allies one at a time.

5. “Fortify the idea factory.”

Be open to good ideas whenever they strike — and write them down to remember them for later.

“Be alert for solutions at all times,” Tucker said. That includes unexpected times such as in the middle of the night or while taking a shower.

He concluded his talk by talking about “the payoffs of innovation: The 3 Rs” — results, (good) reputation and residuals (the good effects remain for the future).

After the 8 a.m. talk, which was attended by professionals, Tucker gave a similar talk to teenagers. They were students of the Governor’s School and the Academy for Engineering and Technology, which is a joint project of New College Institute and Patrick Henry Community College.

Allyson Rothrock, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, commended Lisa Lyle of the EDC for coordinating the event.

“I think that for our community to succeed,” Rothrock said, “as we go into the future, we all have to think about innovation and opportunity. Any opportunity I have,” such as to bring Tucker to Martinsville, “I grasp it.”


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