Cultivate’16: A fresh perspective on innovation

Unique. It’s a nice word. It has a nice a nice ring to it. It looks good on paper, and it sounds important. But it doesn’t mean what many people think it means.

Unique Vizzini

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

“Unique” is one of those words I had pounded into my head in my first journalism job, mainly because people use it to mean “different,” or “amazing,” or “new.” However, the definition of unique is “one-of-a-kind.”

There may not seem to be a difference in all of those words, but it’s a matter of honesty. For example, I could describe Practical Software Solutions as having “a unique blend of skilled professionals ready to help your business find the right solution.”

That may sound impressive, but it’s not true. I even mentioned this in a recent blog post. There are plenty of other Sage partners (or other software vendors) who do exactly what we do. We obviously aren’t one-of-a-kind.

That’s not to say we aren’t different than other software vendors. Someone may choose us over another vendor because of our location, or our skill set, or how we treat them. But there’s a huge difference between being the right fit for someone and being unique.

I was reminded of this today during the Keynote address for Cultivate’16, which is taking place right now in Columbus, Ohio. I didn’t think about it until this morning, but “innovation” is another word that gets misused in business.

Innovation means more than a new wrapper

Scott Steinberg was on a roll this morning. His presentation, “Leading with Innovation: How to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed in the New Normal,” had me nodding in agreement so much, I thought I was going to get whiplash.

One of the statements Steinberg made about innovation really caught my ear: Innovation is an overused and a misunderstood term in the business world.

Well, that’s not a unique situation. (Yeah, I went there.) Seriously though – he’s right. “Innovation” is used way too often and many times erroneously.

According to Steinberg, the basic definition of innovation is “the introduction of something new.” But too often, companies use “innovation” when they really mean, “we have a product we just released, but there’s already one like it on the market.”

Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with bringing a duplicate product to the market (well, except if it’s patented, but you know what I mean). Competition makes for a great check-and-balance system in the business world. Having more than one product or service that does the same thing makes for a healthy ecosystem.

However, a duplicate product is not an innovation. A duplicate product can be better than the original, but that’s the point – it’s not original. If it’s not original, it’s not an innovation.

The spark of an idea is the true innovation

Innovation isn’t the end result – it’s the idea at the beginning. Every new technology, new product, or new way of doing things started with an idea.

“All it takes is one idea to change the shape of the whole industry,” Steinberg said.

And we’ve seen that happen with our own eyes. In 2011, Young’s Plant Farm won the Sage Customer Award for Innovation. Digging through my files on my computer, I found the description of the award from five years ago:

The Innovation award recognizes the extraordinary achievement of a customer that has adopted Sage applications as an enterprise-class solution for its industry. This company must recognize significant technology and business benefits from the Sage platform and achieve world-class performance while enabling business processes to deploy throughout the organization. The winning entrant will demonstrate exceptional alignment of business objectives to long-term industry trends, differentiate itself to its customers, and achieve at least one of the following: outstanding ROI, user adoption, gains in efficiency, and effectiveness of existing resources.

Bryan Young had an idea, and it truly did revolutionize the horticulture industry – especially for growers who ship to big-box retailers.

When one of their big-box retailers expanded their UPC system, Young’s became unable to keep up with their UPC tagging system manually. It was causing mistakes that were translating into customer receipt errors and huge charge-backs.

Already a Grower Vertical customer, Bryan Young had experience with the ability to customize their Sage solution. What came next is possibly the most important part to the story: Bryan spoke up about his idea. He brought up the idea of a scanning solution that would rebuild sales orders and generate all of the shipping orders, documents and labels as the product is loaded onto the truck.

“Bryan Young came up with the solution to the problem,” said Greg Lafferty, senior account executive with Practical Software Solutions. “He came to me and said, ‘There has got to be a way to solve this. Can’t we just …’ and he described the solution he envisioned. We refined it, but he engineered the whole thing.”

After all was said and done, Young’s Plant Farm’s customer receipt errors were reduced to less than 1 percent, which translate into a huge improvement for the bottom line. The second most important part of the story is that Young’s shared the technology with our other Grower Vertical customers, allowing Scan by Cart to help the horticulture industry and not just their operation.

What they did fit the description of the Sage Customer Award for Innovation to a T.

But let’s back up a moment. What if Bryan didn’t mention his idea to Greg all those years ago. What if he held back because he was afraid of hearing “no” or afraid of being laughed at. But fortune favored the bold, and Scan by Cart is helping the industry thanks to the spark of an idea that was shared.

Again, Steinberg said it best: Competitive advantage at most companies is not about being the biggest and baddest, not the ones having the most time, money, resources or what have you. It’s about providing better tools and platforms to employees for them to be innovative.

We provided a better tool and a platform for Bryan Young and Young’s Plant Farm. And it gave him the ability to be innovative. It’s as simple as that.

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