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How To Drive Business Innovation

In the consumer electronics field, market leaders often tend to associate the concept of innovation with breakthrough, game-changing technologies: Advancements such as the Internet of Things, rise of big data and emergence of connected home devices. But as discovered researching my new book “Make Change Work for You,” it may surprise many CE professionals to learn that innovation is often a process of evolution, not revolution — slight shifts in strategy or thinking that ca make huge impacts.

In fact, high-tech leaders at every level may be heartened to discover that even many minor shifts in positioning, branding, and business strategy can provide significant windfalls. So if you’re determined to embrace innovation, you’re your organization isn’t ready to think big yet, here’s the good news: You can still win by helping it start to think on a smaller scale.

For example, national drugstore chain Walgreens faced a challenging market. After a public dispute with a prescription partner, tightened consumer spending, and growing competition caused prescription counts to fall, the company didn’t bump up ad spending. Instead, it reinvented its approach to customer care.

Strategies included:

  • bringing pharmacists out from behind the counter to provide more clinical and counseling services;
  • building an online “Find a Pharmacist” tool to match customer needs with pharmacist expertise, clinical backgrounds and native languages;
  • creating a Pill Reminder mobile app with prescription refill and transfer abilities; and
  • building API middleware tools that let third-party developers create new ways to let patients order refills at its 8,000-plus pharmacies

 As you can see, the simple use of cost-affordable high-tech solutions allowed Walgreens to successfully greet business setbacks. But many low-tech solutions can also help you do the same as well. On the flip side, consider the case of Target, among today’s most colossal retail chains.

When the company wanted to increase revenues? It didn’t open more giant strip mall outlets. It launched pint-sized store prototypes in major cities nationwide.

These locations don’t just feature products in smaller sizes (imagine a four-pack of toilet paper – who doesn’t love the fun size?). They also equip salespeople with mobile scanners so fast-moving urban shoppers can enjoy storewide checkouts, and – like many bookstores – do a great deal of business selling locally-branded merchandise.  This concept, designed to leverage the brand’s cachet in new and novel ways, hasn’t just provided significant gains. It’s been so successful that Target’s nearly doubled the number of these stores in just one year.

Again, innovation is easier than you think. And whether your organization is a small CE startup or global manufacturing giant, you can absolutely, positively put the same strategic principles that today’s most successful change management practitioners (including hundreds of CE leaders) leverage to work at every level.

While researching Make Change Work for You, I had the pleasure to speak with dozens of leading high-tech and online innovators. Their system for succeeding and staying ahead of the curve is both simple and easily-followed by CE leaders in every category. Put simply, they urge you to:

  • Create a culture of empowerment and trust where everyone feels comfortable speaking up. Leading organizations empower their people, encourage them to speak up, and reward them for bringing potential opportunities and issues to light, or bringing new trends and tools to their attention.
  • Constantly rethink problems, perspectives, and the status quo. Leading organizations expect their people to constantly reconsider whether “the way it’s always been done” is still the best way to do it.
  • Embrace change. Leading organizations expect their employees to be creative, constantly seek better ways to do business, and be agile,  flexible and dedicated about responding to changes in the business environment.
  • Make smart bets. Leading organizations try to be risk-averse, not risk-free. To find and seize on new opportunities, they know they have to constantly make measured gambles with new promotions, products and programs. So they do so strategically: By encouraging employees to constantly experiment and play lots of small, cost-affordable bets, iterating as they go until one or more pay off. For these enterprises, failure is simply a learning opportunity.

In short, CE leaders don’t have to expend massive amounts of time, effort or resources to drive successful innovation. Rather, simply keep their eyes and ears peeled, remain open-minded, and continually improvise and innovate to keep pace with changing markets and customer expectations around them. As such, innovation is simpler than many think. It’s merely a process of ongoing awareness, and constant reinvention – one which consumer electronics companies can use to fuel continuous, ongoing success and growth by embracing at every level.

Scott Steinberg, an authority on leadership and innovation, is the author of “Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty.” A provider of keynote speeches, workshops and seminars for Fortune 500 firms, his website is