Last fall, I spent four days with the Crystal Ball Subcommittee, brainstorming what will be PLANET’s 30th Crystal Ball Report. The end result of these very stimulating gatherings is a road map to help industry members address a particularly timely and relevant topic. This year’s topic, innovation, is extremely relevant since each and every business owner in all industries is facing the so-called “new reality.” Brought about in large part by the recession, a slow-moving recovery, and an ever-changing industry, creative and innovative discussions will no longer be the luxury of a few forward-thinking company owners. No, innovators will not only give themselves a competitive advantage, but they will also help ensure their very survival.
Innovation happens because people have experiences, insights, ideas, and most of all because they interact with one another.
Yes, we live in a world of ever-accelerating change, driven by the competitive marketplace. The products, services, and operational processes that once gave us business advantage are soon, if not already, matched or being improved on by the competition. Our world now expects everything to be newer … better … faster … cheaper. The reality is that if we don’t continually develop new ideas and act on them to improve our offerings we will lose any advantage we currently have and get left behind. Innovation is critical to the future every business, big or small, green industry or other.
With that in mind, I left the meeting and returned home, understanding what the Subcommittee members often repeated in those four days — creativity and innovation do not occur in a vacuum, and they aren’t the sole domain of an R&D department. Truly innovative companies create a culture of innovation in which all team members are active participants.
As with most everything in life, it’s easier to think about doing something than actually doing it. I encountered my first roadblock at a department leader meeting where participants didn’t embrace the idea as enthusiastically as I did. Their thought being, “you’re asking us to be more innovative because you think we’re not innovative enough already?”
I didn’t expect this, but, then again, that’s part of the process. The first step toward becoming a truly innovative company is breaking down traditional barriers. At Dennis’ Seven Dees, we are always looking for better and more efficient ways of doing things and looking out for new opportunities that present themselves. I agreed with my managers that we had done some truly creative things in the past, including launching a vegetable stand last year that drove business to one of our garden centers. But, and I can’t emphasize this enough, ideas like this shouldn’t be the “occasional” or “exceptional.” They should be regular and commonplace. There needs to be a methodology in place that makes innovation a permanent part of your business operation. Innovation needs to be a company strategy that ultimately ends up being part of the company culture.
As an owner, I want to be barraged by new ideas from all corners of our company, especially from those closest to the work in the field. I want our team members to think about new products or services and new ways of delivering them. I want them to think about new promotions, new ways to get involved with our community, new ways to keep everyone motivated, and so forth. In other words, I want tons of new ideas ALL OVER THE PLACE.
The Crystal Ball Report makes is perfectly clear that the vision for an innovative culture needs to start at the top and work its way down in a company. It doesn’t work the other way. Team members will quickly abandon being innovative if the company president and members of top management are not receptive to their ideas or if an environment fostering creative thinking and collaboration is not provided and supported. Management must also be willing to make the investment of resources required to turn a good idea into an innovation.
We’ve all known for years that being innovative is one of the first steps toward having a meaningful competitive advantage. There is, however, side benefit of even greater value, which is the culture created by the innovative process. Innovation happens because people have experiences, insights, ideas, and most of all because they interact with one another. People have a natural enthusiasm to make things better, and to improve the products and services they make and provide, and the companies they work for. Working in a positive environment based on trust, where people can participate without fear, openly share ideas, interact with one another, and collaborate with co-workers at all levels is extremely empowering. This innovative culture is one that challenges and inspires people to new levels of productivity and creativity. Companies operating at this level not only realize greatness, but they also become unstoppable.
Was it just coincidence that President Obama, in his State of the Union address, recommended innovation as America’s strategy for strengthening its competitive position as the world power, or did he receive an advance copy of PLANET’s Crystal Ball Report #30 — Innovate (or Die): How Green Industry Companies Will Thrive in the New Economy?
PLANET thanks the supporting sponsor, Hunter Industries. For more information on this new publication, contact the PLANET office.
David Snodgrass, Landscape Industry Certified Manager