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The Innovation Cycle: Where Are We?

(December 2009) posted on Tue Nov 24, 2009

Invention extension? Functional substitution? Find out what these concepts mean and how they apply to the screen-printing industry.

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By Mark A. Coudray

These three items are independent of technology, product, or process. That means all of those elements can change and you’ll still have someplace to sell whatever you intend to sell. With this in mind, you still have to maintain your connection to your market and your customers, and you must remain relevant to them. This is another way of saying you bring value to them.

The most important thing you can do right now is strengthen your relationship with your client base. Your single goal is to become their trusted advisor in your area of specialization. You many think you already are. Examine closely whether you are a screen-print expert or a graphic-communications expert. If you’re the former, you have work to do.

The best way of starting this process is to gain a more complete understanding of how each of your customers or clients uses your products or services. The more you know, the better off you’ll be and the easier it will be to change or alter your course while still remaining true to your expertise.

This process of discovery will reveal a great deal of very valuable information. You’ll find most of your customers or clients will give you the same common answers. “We use T-shirts for school spirit and as fund raising,” for example. However, some of the schools will tell you they use them to build community. While school spirit and community sound the same, there’s a much bigger difference. Spirit is temporary and fleeting. It can change with a winning or losing season. Community is on-going. This is a huge revelation and gives you the basis for comprehensive development in this direction.

What you’re after are the uncommon answers. Malcom Gladwell calls these the outliers. He wrote a best-selling business book of the same title. Statistically these are the group of people/answers that make up the farthest end, and least number of responses. Overall, the more customers or clients you talk to, the more answers you’ll get that are close to unique.

Where am I going with all of this? The common answers are the automatic assumptions of how your goods or services will be used and these are the things all of your competition is delivering as well. When you look at the outliers, you’re getting a glimpse of where you can develop additional expertise and understanding.


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