In 1974, Arthur Fry worked for the 3M Company and sang in his church choir. He regularly had issues with the pieces of paper he stuck in his hymnal to mark the songs they were singing because they would keep falling out.
One of Fry’s colleagues at 3M, Spencer Silver, came to him at the same time and told him that he invented a new type of glue that wasn’t very strong, and if he thought of any applications for it to let him know — his bonus depended on it, Silver told Fry.
Fry then had an “a-ha” moment; the pieces of a puzzle all fit together in his thought process. The result of Fry’s idea and Silver’s glue? The Post-it Note.
The little sticky notes come in all shapes and sizes and bring in revenues of more than $1 billion annually. The Post-it is the perfect example of innovation. As Fry described it, an idea isn’t innovation until it’s widely adopted into people’s daily lives.
Regardless of whether your pest control company’s innovative ideas bring in a few new customers or change the scope of its revenues forever, innovation is critical to growth in pest control. That’s the message that Robert Tucker conveyed when he gave the keynote at NPMA’s Technology Summit late last year in Salt Lake City.
Tucker, president of The Innovation Resource in Santa Barbara, Calif., and a world-renowned speaker and trainer as well as author of numerous books including “Driving Growth Through Innovation,” gave PMPs insights into his approach to innovation and how he thinks pest control can benefit from it.
CHALLENGES TO INNOVATION. The best way to explore innovation, Tucker said, is to identify any clear hurdles to achieving it. There are three major challenges that all industries are facing in one way or another, and pest control is not any different.
- Business is accelerating:Product and service offering life cycles are faster; business models are accelerating. As such, PMPs need to ask, “are we able to change fast enough?” and can we “embrace new ways to handle situations and use new technologies or are we lagging behind?” The goal: To ramp up and embrace technology fully.
- Differentiation:What makes us unique from another company? If we offer the same services as our competitors, how are we different?
- Disruption: Major outside forces change the way products and services are sold. For example, millennials no longer subscribe to cable television at the rate of baby boomers and Gen Xers because of other options like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu.
Disruption occurs, Tucker says, when a new product or business model creates a new way for the customer to solve their problem, which in turn weakens or destroys the value proposition of existing providers. An excellent example is phone maker Nokia, which held a 49 percent market share in the cell phone market prior to Steve Jobs announcing the iPhone in January 2007; six years later, Nokia had just three percent market share.
RIGHT MINDSET. There are different modes to innovation, Tucker says, that make it possible. The first is having the mindset of opportunity mode. Being forward thinkers and ready to always turn “lemons into lemonade” is an aggressive way to approach business.
Every so often all people get thrown “off their game” he says, and he calls this defeatist mode. If you don’t stay in that mode for too long, he thinks you’ll be fine. “Worry is the negative use of the imagination,” he says.
Many people don’t have that forward- approach to life and business, and they end up in sustainer mode. This is for people who don’t look ahead and don’t attempt to make these things happen. According to Tucker, a person in this mode when presented with an idea would give the negative response like “we tried that in the 1980s and it didn’t work then, so it won’t work now.” It’s important to avoid being in sustainer mode. The way to do so is to focus on what you’re talking about internally as a company — are you discussing new ideas or talking about problems and issues?
Dreamer mode is another aspect of innovation, and this is one where people let the visionary inside them release and stand out. Creativity is coming up with ideas, and innovation is bringing them to life. Dreamers are great at ideas but the problem with some of them is they get stuck in this mode and don’t do anything with the ideas. “Innovators are dreamers who take action,” Tucker says.
Lastly, opportunity mode is taking that final step and pursuing new ideas and bringing them to fruition. Everyone has things to overcome from resources to time management to interest/lack of interest by others. Staying the course and making sure ideas become more than just ideas is huge, he says.
WHAT IS INNOVATION? Not everyone agrees on what innovation means to them, so to be creative about something you need to get on the same page — as employees, as employers, and/or as a company. Tucker’s definition for innovation is “Product, processes and strategies put new value for customers and drive new growth in the company.”
The key to all innovation, he says, is that it must create new value for the company. Many times, a manufacturer creates a product or service offering, works on packaging, develops a marketing strategy, and then tries to sell it to the end user. But an opposite approach benefits everyone involved — i.e., start with the customer and work backwards. Amazon takes this approach.
PRODUCT VS. STRATEGY. Obviously, a service or product innovation is something that changes the way we live or work. The iPhone is a great example. It changed communication forever by innovating it. But there are many ways to achieve innovation and grow without a product; these are strategy innovations.
Strategy innovations are when you add value to your customer without your normal deliverable. In pest control, the application of the service is the product for most companies. But the way those companies market themselves, the way they bill their customers, they way they perform customer service — these are all strategy innovations.
A mainstream example from the last few years is McDonald’s, which had been under fire from critics for not growing and being somewhat stagnant in its new product offerings. Its creative brainstorms resulted in the company offering breakfast all day, every day. This wasn’t a new product, but it was a strategy innovation — a new way of doing business. And, it worked.
HOW TO INNOVATE. Tucker suggests that pest control companies integrate innovation into their daily tasks as much as any other part of the business. Get a group of employees to share ideas on a committee internally — and don’t ask ideas to be shared by name if the company has a history of shooting them down. Employees won’t share their creative thoughts for the company after they’ve been rejected too many times. Companies need to embrace the flow of ideas — all ideas.
Tucker provided a few easy tips for innovating. Look for things you can combine. If you have a service and you can share it in a new market with another service, go for it! Then continuously assault your assumptions. You don’t need to know that the status quo is the way it should be.
“There’s got to be a better way” is a great thing to hear when thinking of how to get to new ideas, Tucker said. Another is when someone researches how to do something and comes up with two ways to do something…start to look for “what about a third?”
For brainstorming sessions, make sure there are a few rules — have a process, share ideas, then go work on them. Start with the right mindset, get the process going, and then mine the future — look for trends and understand why things happen so you know how things will affect your ideas.
The author is a Chicago-based contributing writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.