Innovate to Differentiate – by James Barton

Robert Goizueta is famously quoted for saying “In real estate it’s location, location, location but in business it’s differentiate, differentiate differentiate”

I love this as it truly encapsulates how I feel about innovation.

Far too often I see different companies regurgitating the same tired products or services with a supposedly different twist to persuade us that they are continuously innovating new products rather than simply rebadging old ones.

Take hair products – what exactly is a Pro-Vitamin Complex anyway!?

It is difficult to write an article about differentiation and innovation with mentioning Steve Jobs and Apple.

After reading his biography I was constantly impressed by their approach to innovation through simplicity and a no-compromise attitude, which has helped them create (or more accurately re-create) the most successful and cash rich company in history.

Whilst I am not a fan of his leadership style, Steve Jobs certainly knew the importance of innovation to set yourself apart!

So how do we do it?

Here is my recipe for innovation:

Focus on the right things – In any organisation there should be a team of people focused on innovation. Away from the humdrum of Business as Usual, this team should be looking to the future and focusing on the future trends and aligning products and services to meet the future and not the now. This is one of the key failings of companies like Microsoft that constantly try to break into emerging markets after the market leader.

Remove the clouds – Blue-sky thinking is a tired business cliché in anyone’s book, but the motivation behind it is sound. Give people the freedom to create without judgement and distraction. Experience has shown us that the best ideas often come out of the blue where people have experimented in a hunch and then revolutionise an entire market. The iPad is probably the best example of this.

Get senior sponsorship – the quickest route to failure is management by committee. Both in work and in my outside interests, I have seen great, ground breaking ideas stumble and even fail due to the lack of quick and often brave decision making. Get someone on the team with enough clout and vision to make decisions quickly.

Mix it up – as our PRISM brain mapping technology has proven, successful teams are made up of people that possess all the four basic behaviour types. It is no good just having a team of innovators if they are unable to evaluate or worse finish. You need to support the innovative minds with those with skills in project management, analytics and outstanding communication

Be patient – in our ‘take away’ world, we are often demanding results in minutes rather than letting something cook and mature. Ask any chef the secret to great food, and it is often in the preparation that takes longer than the actual event of cooking. Set realistic targets but be patient on the results.

Learn to integrate – Sometimes a cutting edge idea is so advanced that the company has no idea how to support it and give it sustainability. Once an idea has legs start as soon as you can on working out how this will integrate into the business so you can support its growth. It is worth noting that sometimes there is no route and the great idea gives birth to entirely new business.

Jump in – it is true that innovation is risky and sometimes it can create a problem in its own right, but then again so is bankruptcy. The time for innovation is now, before your competition and before your customer even know they need what you are developing. Jump in with both feet and enjoy the ride. You will make mistakes and fail many times, but that should not deter you. If you don’t innovate to differentiate through innovation you are risking your entire business.

If you are truly interested in developing a business for the next decade innovation and differentiation is not optional it is fundamental.

There is another famous saying in the form of a Chinese proverb that states “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now”.

So regardless of where you have been, start the innovation process today.

At Mentor Group we have done exactly that and are in the process of developing the next generation of Sales Transformation and Organisational Leadership solutions, that break new ground and challenge our current paradigms.

These exciting new solutions will bring our clients a new level of excellence that will differentiate them from their competition and bring even more success.


James is a Senior Associate and SFDC technology specialist working with Mentor Group. With over 18 years experience in IT, Sales and Personal Development James is known for his significant technical knowledge, high energy and innovative approach to any solution.