I spent this past weekend in Chicago, Illinois, delivering a keynote presentation to the innovative folks attending the 3M Frontline Sales Conference. At most of these events, I try to sit in on presentations offered by others whom I admire. Such was the case this weekend when I sat in on a presentation made by Stephen Shapiro, author of Best Practices are Stupid and Personality Poker.
Stephen delivered an outstanding presentation on the thinking (or rethinking) required within business organizations to foster true innovation. During one segment he reminded us that to truly innovate we must do more than simply “think outside the box.” Thinking outside the box may deliver small, incremental improvements in business but true innovation comes when a business develops an entirely different box.
Henry Ford Reinvents the Hospital Game
I call it changing the game, which I wrote about here on Sensei Blogs two years ago. In that article I pointed to businesses like the Henry Ford West Bloomfield hospital in Detroit, Michigan that restructured its hospital to treat patients like guests at a hotel instead of “sick people.” They hired an executive from the Ritz Hotel chain to spearhead the change. Among the rules changes were:
– “Guests” check in before coming to the hospital and are greeted by a concierge upon arrival who walks them to their suite
– The physical building was designed to look like a resort lodge instead of sterile open spaces and hallways
– The concierge works with guests to understand and accommodate their needs such as how children will get from school to the hospital to visit their parents
– High tea is offered every day at 4 PM with a tea sommelier who teaches the health benefits of herbal teas
– An open area farmers market is held once a week
– The hospital operates a top restaurant-quality kitchen and food service, which is available for catering services
Re-imagining how a hospital operates within a community vs. simply striving for industry best practices has created an award-winning market leader in a state that’s been suffering 30 years of economic hardships.
Having already met industry best practices for healthcare, they had to change the rules of the game in order to truly innovate and surpass the competition. By changing their sandbox from hospital to hospitality, they realized their vision of becoming the top hospital in the region.
MV-1 Canada Reinvents the Car Game
But that was years ago. Today, we don’t have to look much further than one of Sensei’s own clients for a modern day case study of business leaders changing the rules of the game. The MV-1 is the world’s first purpose-built vehicle for people with physical disabilities and their caregivers.
In and of itself, this product was conceived by innovators who “created a new box” in Shapiro’s words, instead of simply thinking outside of the original box. Where others were focused on finding better ways to retrofit existing cars, SUVs or minivans to make it simpler and more attractive for people in wheelchairs, MV-1 re-engineered the automobile completely. Where the others were trying to find a better way to fit a square peg into a round hole, MV-1 decided to build a square hole.
Instead of warranty-killing, quality-threatening alterations to existing cars, the MV-1 has a built-in automated ramp with varying length and pitch, eliminated the front-passenger seat to accommodate a wheelchair in that position, added a large door with built in ramp controls, and customized the vehicle’s interior height/width for unassisted “drive in” wheelchair access.
Peter and Nick Grande, founders of MV-1 Canada, the Canadian distributor of the vehicle, faced their own unique distribution challenges and had to innovate even further. Canada is physically one of the largest countries in the world and with population so widespread, sales and service is an almost insurmountable challenge for a start-up. Building and operating a network of traditional car dealerships with service bays was unpractical. Yet, that’s what is expected from car buyers.
Business Strategy: Reinventing the Rules of the Game
The Grandes threw out traditional car retailing paradigms and in so doing, created an entirely different business model for car retailing. Instead of investing in showroom /service bay combo dealerships, they partnered with NAPA Autopro to manage all servicing of the vehicle. NAPA is an existing nation-wide chain of auto repair shops with the facilities, personnel, and capacity to service MV-1s. By unbundling the authorized, post-purchase service from the vehicle’s sales and marketing efforts, the business could focus all its efforts and budget on developing the sales and marketing strategy.
A similar approach was taken with retailing; MV-1 Canada partnered with a chain of successful retailers already servicing people with disabilities by providing home, car, and personal support equipment and retrofitting services. Next, using advanced analytic software, Sensei was able to identify individual communities that formed around relevant issues to this community. From this group, we developed an influencer marketing strategy that identified key individuals and businesses that had the power to drive both brand awareness and encourage test drives and sales among their audience.
The effort yielded a substantially larger lead funnel with a higher conversion rate, a more detailed and accurate database of prospects and influencers, and an improved relationship with the each community. The result? Before the one-year anniversary of the first MV-1 entering Canada, we were able to secure a 20% ownership of the accessible vehicle market.
Stephen Shapiro’s comments about building an entirely new box is as sound a strategy today as it was when I wrote about the Henry Ford Hospital two years ago. I’d argue that it’s more important today. In fact, it’s critical. The fact that technology and social networking has facilitated faster and faster shifts in consumer behaviors and business operations, trying to outdo the competition or better your existing performance is simply not enough.
The speed of change necessitates that businesses, to remain ahead of the competition, must be fixated on this “new box” vs. “outside the box” thinking. Do you agree? Disagree? Join the conversation in the comments below.
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego