Innovation Distinguishes Between a Leader and a Follower

That’s a quote from the most famous innovator in recent history — Steve Jobs. To be successful, a company has to continually innovate. Here are just a few examples of companies that did and are thriving.

Will Housh was a member of the third generation of a family-owned HVAC business. While it was successful, he saw that e-commerce was coming to the HVAC industry while others in the business were unwilling to embrace the new technology. “Even though our family business was generating sales of more than $12 million in a good year, just how sustainable are mom-and-pop businesses in the age of the Internet?” he wrote in the article “How to Make an Unpopular Decision.”

He saw the industry changing. Customers were starting to use the Internet to connect with contractors and get lower prices. So he started an online and retail business, eventually selling his grandfather’s company to focus on his new business, Housh Inc.

“Whereas our old school HVAC business never made more than $12 million in annual revenue, Housh, Inc. has doubled revenue annually in the past three years and expects $20 million in revenue for 2014. In 2011, our business had three employees–it now has more than 20,” he wrote.

In 1909, James McGraw, a former schoolteacher and founder of The McGraw Publishing Company, and John Hill, founder of The Hill Publishing Company, merged their companies to form McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. Despite being primarily known as a textbook company, it was always at the forefront of changes in technology in education.

In 1989, it introduced the first computerized publishing system to instructors who could use it to customize their textbooks. In 2006 it became the first to offer online assessments and in 2009, it created a Center for Digital Innovation, launching McGraw-Hill Connect, an all-digital teaching and learning exchange for higher education. In 2013, McGraw-Hill completed a sale of its education division to Apollo Global Management for $2.5 billion. It’s doubtful a textbook company could have generated that kind of sale.

3M started as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company to mine a mineral deposit for grinding-wheel adhesives. It struggled in its early years but then invested in technical innovations, such as the world’s first waterproof sander. In 1925, a lab technician invented masking tape, followed years later by cellophane tape, both with the brand name Scotch. (Fun fact: the story goes that the lab technician asked a painter to test an early version of the masking tape and it fell off. He told the lab technician “Take this back to your stingy Scotch bosses and tell them to put more adhesive on it.”)

Ensuing years brought new electro-mechanical products, with the pharmaceutical, radiology and energy control markets added in the 1970s and 1980s. Last quarter, 3M set a record with $8.1 billion in reported sales.

Continued innovation is vital to the success and growth of a company. As the physicist William Pollard said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

In the next column, I’ll discuss ways to encourage innovation at your company.

One thought on “Innovation Distinguishes Between a Leader and a Follower

  1. Pingback: How to Encourage Innovation in the Workplace | The Turnaround Authority

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