The skill is to make it into something better or different. As TS Elliot once wrote:

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”

There is nothing new under the sun. Even Sir Isaac Newton commented that his groundbreaking laws of motion and gravity could only have happened because he had been “standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Innovation is no different. It generally involves taking something that already exists, changing it in some way, and creating something new.

Here are 7 ways in which you can steal, improve and innovate:

  1. Find new applications for existing technologies. Sir James Dyson’s bag-less vacuum cleaner technology was inspired by the way a local sawmill used a giant cyclone to lift and remove sawdust from the air.
  2. Combine disparate technologies. Apple’s iPod and iTunes, brought together the digital downloading technology pioneered by Napster, Creative’s MP3 player technology, and Apple’s existing software capabilities, to create an integrated, intuitive music system.
  3. Take existing innovations into new markets. Ryanair transformed itself from a struggling, full-service carrier into Europe’s leading airline by applying Southwest Airline’s business model.
  4. Dramatically improve the performance of existing products and services. Gillette has created a stranglehold on the razor market as a result of its ongoing improvements to the “simple” technology of a blade attached to a handle.
  5. Radically reduce the cost and accessibility of existing products, services and technologies. George at Asda has become the UK’s #1 clothing brand based on the grocer’s ability to exploit its low-cost retail space, operating model and supply chain and offer its customers a significant price discount on everyday fashion.
  6. Make existing products and technologies far easier to use. The detergent brand, Ariel, created a lead in its category by replacing washing powder with tablets, which are far easier for customers to handle.
  7. Translate successful business models from one industry to another. UK train company, Chiltern Railways, has adopted the low-fare airline model to offer its passengers a low-price, low-service (there are no first class carriages, for instance) rail service between London and the Midlands.

Which of these approaches could you adopt in your business to dramatically accelerate growth?

© Stuart Cross 2010. All rights reserved.