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In My Opinion: Innovation as a Competitive Advantage

Michael Overstreet
It seems that you can’t pick up a business publication or read business news on the Internet today without virtually tripping over the word “innovation.” A parallel can be drawn between our current fascination with innovation and the allure of “quality” in decades past. But what is this thing called innovation and what are the challenges of a changing world that affect its process and implementation?

At its core, innovation is about the creation of something new. According to the Web site, there are eight basic angles to innovation including the development of new business model and brand experiences.

Businesses throughout time have innovated on some combination of these eight basic angles. Every day, beauty industry companies report the release of new products, the implementation of new business models, new strategic partnerships and so much more. The challenge for companies is to develop an innovation strategy that will allow them to compete and succeed in a constantly changing world.

Today, elements beyond our control are changing and creating change at warp speed. Harnessing the power of this rapid change is the first step in using innovation to our competitive advantage. In their book Revolutionary Wealth, Alvin and Heidi Toffler discuss at length what they call deep fundamentals—resources critical to the creation of wealth. The first such element is time. Technological innovations continue to compress time in both our professional and our personal lives. Be honest. Is your Blackberry, laptop or cell phone in your hand or within your reach as you read this? If so, you realize that our expectations relative to response time continue to be compressed. We are the want-it-now society, and this trend is going global. Further, technology puts on-demand access to real time information, technology and capital at our fingertips.

The second element is space. There was a time when we competed in our own communities for education, employment and capital. The same technologies that are compressing time also are compressing space, and we find ourselves competing well beyond our own communities in a truly global market.

Today, the choices available to us in all aspects of life continue to expand—creating stress, confusion and uncertainty. We have transitioned from massification—one size fits all—to what experts today call demassification, also known as mass customization. Ketchup is ketchup right? Why do we need different flavors and spices? Where and how products and services are available is all part of the element of space. Technology is great when it works but it can be a real pain when it doesn’t—and finding a fix might be even more frustrating. These expanding choices and their resulting stresses are no longer limited to our own space but have been exported to developing countries.

Lastly, knowledge is rapidly becoming the wild card of future success and innovation. Look at what’s been going on in China, India, Brazil and Russia. China’s strategy has been to leverage its 1.3 billion people into the dominant global production workforce, while the government in India has pushed higher education and has grown world-class services and technology sectors. An innovation strategy in a new global environment suits them well.

It can be argued that innovation is the result of creating an environment and a culture that encourages risk taking and exploration. It comes from organizations that promote critical thinking and challenge traditional theory and practice. Innovation may come from all levels of an enterprise when marketplace priorities have been clearly articulated. Innovation is the result of human engagement; therefore, if one does not create an organizational culture that promotes human engagement, innovation can be stymied. Some organizations condition employees to keep their good ideas to themselves. The key for any organization is to understand innovation as a competitive advantage, create a supportive culture and to pay for people’s minds rather than their time.

The beauty and personal care markets are not exempt from the eight angles of innovation but rather fully engaged with new product developments, new business models, new distribution models, new channel partnerships, new business processes and new brand experiences. While the challenges are many and competition is fierce, innovation may very well be one of our competitive solutions. Innovate to compete and succeed.


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