Unlocking Innovation

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(Photo: Unsplash user Riccardo Annandale)

At Las Vegas Market last month, I had the privilege of attending the CEO Summit, which offered an opportunity to learn about external factors affecting our industries as well as actionable strategies to address some of them. 

The morning’s speakers, Gary Locke and Dr. Evan Feigenbaum took us Far East, sharing their economic expertise on China; and Vietnam, India and Indonesia, respectively. Their insights on economic development, trade wars, tariffs, politics and manufacturing advantages and pitfalls were both enlightening and a little unnerving as the balance of opportunities, growth and trade disruption came across as delicate. As Ben Stein said in his keynote wrap-up, “We don’t control the world.” 

But fret not. While we may not control external factors that can affect our respective businesses, we are not powerless. As our first post-lunch speaker, Stephen Shapiro, assured us, we have innovation at our disposal. We can find the creative solutions to just about any challenge if we approach it correctly.  

“Innovation is staying relevant, being adaptable and doing it quickly,” Shapiro says, adding, “Expertise is the enemy of innovation. Our brains are wired for survival,” and that means doing what has worked before. At the pace business is changing in today’s environment, however, we may want to consider some rewiring. 

So, how do we overcome our natural tendencies to fall back on what we know? It really comes down to asking the right questions, Shapiro suggested. “If you are asking the wrong question, you’ll never get the right answer.”

Our tendency is to ask questions that are too broad or too specific. In either case, we likely won’t get to the answers we need. We need to find the question that falls somewhere in the middle. Changing the question changes the solution. 

One example focused on The Mall of America in Minneapolis. The quandary was, “How can we use social media to drive traffic?” It’s a mall. There is traffic already. The more specific concern that needed to be addressed was engagement. So the question was flipped to “How can we use traffic to drive social media?” 

As a solution, they created a Twitter campaign, #Twizzard. It encouraged visitors in the mall to tweet to drive the temperature down on a giant thermometer; the more tweets, the lower the temperature went. When it hit the freezing mark, guests were treated to falling snow. The campaign skyrocketed social media engagement and delighted those who were there for the experience. It was a success because someone thought to revise the question.

It’s not necessary to think outside of the box to find innovative solutions. It’s about being inside the right box, Shapiro says, and it can be as simple as changing just one word. “It’s never the answer you have to worry about,” he says. “It’s always the question.” 

So for homework this month, consider a challenge that’s dogging your retail or design business, and rework that question. It could be the key to unlocking an innovative solution. 


Photo: Unsplash user Riccardo Annandale

Diane Falvey

Diane Falvey is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture, Lighting & Decor.

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