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INNOVATE

3 Overlooked Areas Ripe for Innovation

Innovation isn't just for your products. Missed opportunities for innovation could be hidden throughout an organization and staunching potential growth.

Innovation is as American as Coca Cola and apple pie. It's innovation that drives our businesses and, therefore, our economy.

Without innovation to its products, businesses will become stagnant and easily be overtaken by competition. Ahem-U.S. auto industry. At the same time, businesses that are only innovating products are missing a great opportunity.

Innovation is an OtterBox core value to which I would attribute much of our growth. While we've innovated to create industry leading protective solutions for mobile technology, we've innovated inside the business just as much, if not more.

1. Systems

To make the leap from small to medium to large business, companies must have the right systems in place. Without them, you will come to a precipice only to fall down the cliff at the other side. Trust me, I've been there and done that. There are certain systems so integral to the day-to-day survival of a company that they can and should be innovated from within. At the same time, we are lucky to have many smart people running great companies that have set up systems aimed at taking out a lot of the guess work for elements common among many industries. Finding the right system and the right partner is where all companies can innovate.

2. Processes

The systems are made up of steps or processes. It's in these areas that a company can truly innovate. An out-of-the box solution will not get you very far because each business has its own intricacies. Limiting your company to a one-size-fits-all system can cause more harm than good. Setting up the right processes isn't going to happen overnight, and it's likely that there will be missteps along the way. But failure is a part of innovation - perhaps the most important part.

3. People

According to the principles of E-Myth, the systems run the business, and the people run the systems. In order to get the right processes in place, the people that are going to drive them must be able and empowered to innovate. In order to have innovative employees, a company must be innovative in how it attracts and retains such talent. Maintaining the entrepreneurial spirit of OtterBox, even as we grow, has allowed us to keep top talent stimulated and enthused by their work.

I have a replica of Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine hanging above my desk. The original Renaissance man, da Vinci was a master of innovation. The flying machine is a constant reminder to keep innovating, no matter what. Da Vinci was quoted to have said:

"Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation... even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind."

True words hold weight over decades and centuries. Rust in one area of your business is sure to spread elsewhere, as rust tends to do. Instill vigor in your business with innovation in all aspects to avoid tarnish and eventual erosion.

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Last updated: Jun 15, 2012

CURT RICHARDSON | Columnist | Founder and CEO of OtterBox

OtterBox founder and CEO Curt Richardson created the first prototype of a waterproof case in his garage in the early '90s. OtterBox evolved into a leader in protective cases for mobile technology.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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