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What do blue jeans, Gatorade and the Apple Watch have in common? The entrepreneurs behind these genius inventions have shown why creativity and the ability to adapt can be a key factor in product development and success.
From the industrial revolution to the digital revolution; whether a founder, a CEO or even a coach, the ability to revise your original plan of action is the key to growth. Entrepreneurs are able to adjust to their business conditions, but the most successful entrepreneurs are able to see a creative outlet and thrive in the midst of societal changes.
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Image via Levi Strauss
From Function to Fashion
Take Levi Strauss for example. Strauss was a German-American, who moved to San Francisco to open a West Coast outlet for his brothers’ fine dry goods business in New York. Their business plan was simple: make money off the California gold rush by selling inexpensive necessities in San Francisco.
Among other things, Strauss dealt in canvass goods—tents, wagon covers, etc.—but those products were long lasting and were not in great demand. Strauss’s break came in the guise of a customer, Jacob Davis, who asked Strauss’ to help patent an idea: why not use a durable material, like canvas, to make clothing for miners?
Davis’s creativity allowed Strauss to switch roles from merchant to mentor and the product become known as blue jeans. Still a family-owned enterprise in its original San Francisco location, the company’s net worth today is nearly $5 billion—creatively tailoring their original plan for the big idea.
Image via Wikipedia
Touch Down for Gatorade
Fast forward to the 20th century and a liquid-gold drink. According to Business News Daily, the universally popular sports drink Gatorade is a prime example of “creative collision.”
Gatorade was the brainchild of three University of Florida researchers and educational entrepreneurs, who figured out that when Florida Gator football players perspired in the Florida heat, they tended to wilt. The researchers found that loss of fluids and carbohydrates resulted in their 250-pound behemoths passing out on the playing field.
When their team leader, Dr. Robert Cade, a nephrologist who studied the physiology of exercise, questioned the conventional wisdom that discouraged replenishing liquids lost due to sweating, he came up with Gatoride. Taking a drink containing salts and sugars so they absorb quickly during the heat of the game.
This all happened in 1965, and Florida Gator fans know that the rest is history. In addition to the Gator victory, Gatorade sales now exceed $3.3 billion making up 45 percent of the worldwide sports drink market. This new adjustment from water to the original sports drink not only changed the Gator’s season, but became one of the leading producers.
The point here is that it took different people—a nephrology and a football genius—to come up with this invention, going against a conventional behavior and creating a progressive solution.
Watch Out for Apple
After the success of the iMac, iTunes, iPhone and iPad, Apple was expected to create the next blockbuster of the tech industry.
The latest exciting “must-have” gizmo: the Apple Watch. Well known for its innovative products, Apple has found success through clever marketing masked in mystery and understated hyperbole. And through their latest product, they have produced a truly cross-platform personal device.
According to Britain’s The Telegraph, Apple calls the Apple Watch “the most personal device we’ve ever created.” Relying on multiple technologies, the Apple Watch inventors had to abandon the familiar “pinch-and-flick” user interface found in the iPhone and iPad in favor of a stem-like knob and a push button on the side for switching between modes, apps and for dialing up friends.
A hybrid time-keeping piece working in tandem with a mini app container connected to the user’s iPhone, the Apple Watch keeps time within 50 milliseconds of what the most precise atomic clocks do. It also combines fitness tracking technology to follow the user throughout the days activities, whether they be standing or sprinting, and any action in between.
The lesson for entrepreneurs here is not merely do what Apple does. Create a product that solves a problem or fills a void, capitalize on proven technology, and market it in a way that increases interest and demand. Apple has led the digital revolution through products that were ahead of its time. Steve Jobs had a vision and created solutions before consumers even knew they had a problem; his ability to adapt to market environments are what made the Apple empire what it is today.
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Today’s Entrepreneurs Make Thanksgiving Out of Potential Turkeys
Modern-day entrepreneurs do not succeed by standing still. They do not necessarily think outside the box. Rather, they are constantly inventorying all the boxes and seeking ways to recite their ABC's: always be creating.
- Steve Jobs focused Apple’s objectives by reducing its then 350 projects down to 50, and from there, just 10. He focused on the four products that saved Apple—the iMac, iPod, iTunes and iPhone.
- Isaac Perlmutter owned Toy Biz, Inc., and merged his company with the bankrupt Marvel Comics in 1998. Thanks to Perlmutter’s business savvy, Marvels stock rose from 96 cents to $9.72 per share. Due to their success, Disney bought Marvel for a respectable $6 billion, where the company continued to grow.
- Dan Hesse took over as Sprint’s CEO in 2007. At that time, the company was on the verge of failing. Hesse engineered Sprint’s new “Simply Everything” subscriber plan in 2008, and in 2009, acquired Virgin Mobile USA’s niche in the prepaid market. Hess’s intersecting approach returned Sprint to positive growth and achieved a record $35.3 billion business share.
Where Ideas Intersect, New Angles of Synthesis Occur
These leaders are an example of how successful entrepreneurs can see the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. They are able to incorporate new ideas to keep their business plan up to date with current events. Jeffrey Phillips in his article “Innovation Relies on Synthesis” says that entrepreneurial synthesizers do the following:
- They break out of the traditional problem-solving mode by taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture.
- They combine more than one concept or technology and create something completely new.
- They do the eclectic customer research and engage the “voice of the customer” to find out what the customer needs.
- The combination of creativity and adaptability create a revolutionary solution. Levi’s, Gatorade and Apple all created a product outside of conventional usage. They started their own industry and have therefore dominated it over time.
Although we cannot all be the Steve Jobs and Levi Strauss of our generation, we can take their business lessons and apply it to our own lives. It is imperative that business leaders can modify their product and services to meet customer needs, or better yet, meet consumer needs before they realize they have them.