Innovation – doing things differently and doing different things

“Innovation is simply doing things differently and doing different things”

~ {yours truly}

I distilled my thoughts on innovation to this definition many years ago.

It came to me in the picturesque Scottish village of Tobermory one late summer evening when daylight lasts beyond 10pm. it was around 8pm, tourists were walking around looking in shop windows, yet all the shops were closed.

They’d fallen prey to the most dangerous words in business: “we’ve always done it this way”, where always in that country is generally to open around 9am and close by 5pm. Imagine that in a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern country. No ? Of course not, they stay open when there are customers, and in the summer that means long into the night!

It was while walking around Tobermory it occurred to me that they could really benefit from some simple innovation. I thought to myself as I walked:

“Innovation isn’t technology, Disruption isn’t about technology. Innovation is simply doing things differently and doing different things.”

What if, I thought, they simply opened several hours later in the summer and shorter hours in the winter ? Simple. “Not rocket science” as the phrase goes.

Oh, and this is Tobermory. Visit when you can. Gorgeous !


Now, doing things differently AND doing different things. What do I mean by that ?

Broadly, to create a gap in the market it is not normally enough to do things differently, you also have to do different things.

For example, a shop in Tobermory could open until 9pm all summer, and as soon as the other stores selling similar things see them doing it, they will copy them as it is simple to do things differently. Advantage largely lost at that point.

What if, however, they took a deeper view and also chose to close entirely for two months in winter and open short hours a few days per week the rest of the low season ? What different things might they do ? They could choose to operate with seasonal staff only so they save costs in winter, plus they could build an active website and market it strongly to those who come into the store in the summer, targetting them in autumn for christmas gifts to ship worldwide ? See what I mean ?

Another example. Many years ago I knew someone who lived all winter in Cayman and relaxed and went diving. They owned a Fish and Chip shop in a seaside town in England. They closed it all winter, then went back at the end of winter, hired seasonal staff, then managed it themselves, working super hard all summer. Result ? They made so much profit in those five months that they could spent seven months over autumn and winter scuba diving in Cayman. Innovative, huh ?

To close, Seth Godin’s daily post yesterday took a great spin on this :

“Digital analogs only work when they’re better and different, not when they’re almost the same.

Chat isn’t the same as chatting. Email isn’t a replacement for mail. Video conferencing isn’t just like being in a real conference…

There’s still plenty of room for digital innovations to impact our world. But they won’t simply be a replacement for what we have now. They only earn widespread engagement when they’re much better than the status quo they replace.

And the only way they can be better is when they’re different.”