Every little difference can be magic

Oct 09 2007 by Max McKeown Print This Article

You're looking for that ground breaking, market changing new idea that sets you apart from every competitor and rival inside and outside the company. So where should you start?

If you're like many people, you'll be looking for something BIG. After all, how can you change the world with a small idea? Well, you can because often the biggest advances come focusing on the littlest things.

Most profitable companies and successful individuals succeed by offering something of value that is unique. But when we want to improve we may fall into the trap of only improving the big things. And yet, BIG innovation - trying to figure out a completely new product or innovative new service that your competitors don't have – is not always the best way to start.

It's very difficult to think of such ideas (although worthwhile). It's very tricky to deliver them and even harder to communicate them (despite the potential benefits).

The good news is that it's often easier and just as profitable to focus on small innovations that make what we already do – for our customers, our bosses, mothers and lovers – better and different.

Toothbrush maker Oral-B figured out that people didn't know or didn't notice that their toothbrush bristles were so worn away that they were useless. So they created a patented blue dye, put it in the middle bristles so that it faded with use, thus letting the customer know that it's time to buy a new toothbrush.

Good for the customer's teeth - and good for Oral-B.

Making it easier to find what you are offering is innovation. Think Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Google or MSN maps, GPS systems, console games, 24 hour call centres with the number published on everything you ever send out – even if you're not a bank! – mini-outlets close to your customers.

Making it easier to make a choice is innovation. Think online comparison tables that include your key competitors products even if their prices are lower, free planning software that helps customers use your service better, like IKEAs kitchen designer.

Making it easier to order and purchase is innovation. Think Amazon's one-click ordering or "my account" services that manage company expenditure like Expedia. So is making it easier to pick up your product, like the low- cost truck rental offered by Brico Depot in France.

What about making receiving a product more fun or more useful? There's packaging that you want to keep like Apple's or can reuse like Nutella's chocolate spread; containers that turn into kitchen ingredients containers, even step-by-step video guides that make product installation a joy, not a curse.

Or you could try making products that are easier to store. One roof rack company offers a free storage system with each purchase. Nintendo's Wii is the only portable third generation games console, designed to fit into a small rucksack to share with friends. Pepsi designed plastic bottles lighter than those of Coca-Cola.

You could even make it easier for people to return your product. A major electrical retailer in the UK have put all receipts on a central database so that customers don't have to keep their own – compare that to hassle you get at most stores.

But remember, lively brainstorming sessions don't automatically bring these sort of benefits. Motivational speeches by Everest climbers or Olympic medallists will not make a difference to what you deliver.

But focusing creativity on improving any of the hundreds or thousands of aspects of what you offer avoids wasted effort and lets you reap the big rewards for noticing the little things that others miss.

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About The Author

Max McKeown
Max McKeown

Max McKeown works as a strategic adviser for four of the five most admired companies in the world. He is a well-known speaker on subjects including innovation and competitive advantage. His latest book, #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now, was published in July 2016.