Innovation starts with creative thinking

Want to see what disruption looks like? Here you go:

In 93 seconds, the world imploded for shaving giant Gillette, courtesy of a little-known startup with an innovative business model and little humor.

The same thing happened years earlier to corporate giants like Sears, Blockbuster, BlackBerry, Circuit City, Encyclopedia Britannica, and PanAm. Once upon a time, they ruled their respective lands. Today, these once-great companies are afterthoughts.

And why? They lost their way. They became intoxicated by their own success. They didn’t see the weak signals of disruptive change on the horizon, and by the time they did, it was too late. They had already been crushed by that disruption.

They are cautionary tales, and Josh Linkner says there are huge lessons to be learned from all of them.

“The rules have changed. We need a new approach driven by innovation and creative thinking,” Linkner, a best-selling author and entrepreneur, told a packed house at the 2015 ASAE Annual Meeting in Detroit. “Creative thinking is the difference between organizations that win and those that collapse.”

So where does that creative thinking come from? Linkner boils it down to what he calls the five “obsessions” of innovators.

1. Get curious.
We’ve written about this before, but Linkner took it even further. Ask, “Why?” A lot. Over and over. Each “Why?” brings the truth and creativity closer to the surface. If you need proof, ask comedian Louis C.K.

2. Crave what’s next.
To drive this point home, Linkner cited his hometown of Detroit. Motown has endured its share of hard times lately, but it’s on a road to renaissance, thanks to its forward-thinking civic leaders. Their mission? Don’t try to rebuild the old Detroit. Focus instead on finding the new Detroit.

It’s working.

“Detroit is embracing the spirit of innovation that put it on the map in the first place,” Linkner said.

Write off Detroit at your peril, folks. It’s on its way back, and it’s hungry for respect. It deserves yours.

3. Defy tradition.
Flip a problem to produce a completely different result. Want an example? Check out what Massoud Hassani is doing to doing to rid the world of neglected landlines.

Or, on a lighter note, consider what Kalula Airlines is doing to boost customer experience. They’re providing a completely new experience … and it’s paying off.

“Customer experience is the new battleground for competitive advantage,” Linkner says. Are you winning that battle?

4. Be scrappy.
Be flexible, nimble, willing to take risks. Don’t worry about ruffling feathers. As Simon Sinek says, focus on your supporters; ignore your naysayers. Remember the old saying about pioneers? They’re the ones with the arrows in their backs. You’re going to have to take a few arrows to get where you want to go.

5. Push boundaries.
Want to know what that looks like? Check out Cleveland Whiskey.

Traditional wisdom says you have to age whiskey inside of wooden barrels. Founder Tom Lix decided to try putting the barrel (in pieces) inside the whiskey. The unique distilling process ages Cleveland Whiskey in just six months, compared to the usual eight to 12 years. That means Lix can make more of his product faster, and charge a premium in the process.

How can you disrupt your industry and get paid for it?

This stuff isn’t rocket science. It simply requires a new way of thinking.

Here is Linkner’s challenge to all of us: During the next week, come up with one idea that could creatively disrupt your profession. Come up with one and you will find others. Creative thinking is contagious. If you lead the way, pretty soon your entire team will be thinking up ways to disrupt the competition.

“No matter what your business card says, we should all be disrupters, business artists, and entrepreneurs,” Linkner said

That’s where the fun will begin.


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