5 ways to ignite your company’s creative spirit

I recently had lunch with a very smart friend of mine who is well versed in many things, and one of them happens to be early 19th century philosophy. During our lunchtime conversation about innovation and disruption, he suggested the life cycle of innovation reminds him of a famous philosophical theory by a German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer.

Typically when I hear the words “early 19th century German philosopher,” my eyes roll back in my head and my jaw slackens.

However, there was something about this particular topic that held my interest. Apparently, this dude, Schopenhauer, suggested that all truths when first introduced pass through three stages: First, they are ridiculed. Second, they are violently opposed. Third, they are accepted as being self-evident.

As I related this notion to my first-hand experiences and others’ theories on new ideas, innovation and disruptive products and services, I was struck by how accurate and consistent this comparison really was. From cup-holders to iPods to 3D-printed urns, the first reaction of the market is typically, “this is crazy.”

Schopenhauer style

The second stage is the disrupted establishment trying to oppose the new idea through fair or foul (see angry Las Vegas cab-drivers’ attempts to hold off Uber). And finally, everyone tries to figure out why this idea took so long to arrive.

So with that, I give you five tips on igniting the innovative spirit, Schopenhauer style.

Mind the gap.

When you ride the London Underground, this warning is posted everywhere and continuously repeated on every overhead PA system. It is a reminder to watch your step between the platform and subway car.

To bring this around to the topic at hand, the phrase “mind the gap” has a different context for me. I prefer to call it “find the gap.” At Foreverence, the company I founded in 2014, we quickly realized the funeral industry had long assumed that people who chose cremation did so for financial reasons.

This may have been true 20 or 30 years ago when the cremation rate was 15 to 20 percent, but it is no longer true in today’s world of cremation rates higher than 50 percent.

It’s a good reminder that disruptive products and services rarely come from inside the industries that they disrupt, and to succeed, you have to find a market segment or a product category that the industry has underserved or even ignored.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again….then stop and find a better way. We’re Americans! We never give up! We never quit! While this looks great on a coffee mug, it’s not always a business best practice. Resilience and grit are outstanding qualities, but I would argue resourcefulness is the rudder that steers the ship.

The team at Foreverence went into this venture thinking that nearly 100 percent of our sales would come through funeral home channels. Funeral professionals told us that our product was amazing. We listened, but the channel sales never came.

 No time to wait

In the meantime, there was a groundswell of consumer demand. What we had believed would be a channel-driven sales model now required reinvention as a consumer-driven brand and product awareness exercise. It’s not that we’ve given up on the channel, it’s only that our success is now predicated on consumer demand and we’re not on waiting for adoption by a slow-moving industry.

Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.

Your idea is not perfect. It may never be perfect. In any given innovation cycle it seems to take 50 percent of the time to get an idea about 90 percent ready for market, and then the last 50 percent is spent massaging the final part.

My advice is to get it out in the market in its imperfect state. Let your customers touch it, feel it, react to it. You will learn more from that exercise than you would from applying more closed source energy in an attempt to achieve perfection. (Medical device companies should ignore this tip. Your innovations must be perfect.)

Create value beyond a product’s original utility.

Foreverence makes urns like Rolex makes watches. An urn holds cremated remains and a watch tells time, but that is not why someone buys Foreverence or Rolex. We believe that we have created a way for individuals and families to tell the stories of their lives through legacy memorials in the shape of anything that was meaningful or important.

That is not the primary utility of an urn, but we have found a way to turn a simple container in to a legacy piece, rich with stories and memories. This concept is a major theme in the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. Reading it will change the way you view new product introductions in to mature industries.

Do something. Franklin Roosevelt said; “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” It is that last part that should be tattooed on the arm of every innovator and entrepreneur. Above all, try something.

Don’t keep guessing

We seem to place a lot of value on strategy and we like to contemplate go to market plans and customer psychographics, but in the end, until someone picks up the phone, or goes to visit a customer, we’re just guessing. Make sure your research, knowledge and intelligence turns into real action. Now go do something!

Contact:  Pete Saari is co-founder and CEO of Eden Prairie-based Foreverence, which uses 3D printing to create personalized cremation memorials: www.foreverence.com;

888.730.6111; pete.saari@foreverence.com; www.foreverence.com.

Pete Saari