Innovation in a cup of joe

Finding Innovation in a Cup of Coffee

Innovation doesn’t have to be this forced, epic thing.  A simple cup of coffee can inspire a thought that brews into genius.

The coffee culture that has caught on in the United States didn’t exist several decades ago. A cup of joe used to be a strictly utilitarian beverage, limited to the industrial-strength office swill or watered-down instant crystals from a jar. Teens didn’t drink it, and the local diner certainly didn’t offer a mocha frappucino on the menu.

But in 2016, America’s coffee culture is as strong and robust as a triple shot of espresso. Thanks, Starbucks. The booming business of brewing java can be traced back to this brand, which opened its first store in 1971 and rapidly expanded after going public in 1992. CEO Howard Schultz had a marketing strategy that not only defied tradition, it seemed downright strange. He opened stores in very close proximity to each other. Take a walk in Manhattan, for example, and you’ll find that green mermaid logo beaming at you from opposite ends of the same block. Entrepreneur and writer Evan Carmichael explains that Schultz believed his strategy would create brand recognition, increase foot traffic, shorten lines and make managing stores more efficient.

“In the end, the unique Starbucks strategy paid off,” Carmichael writes. “Clustering its stores in one area helped Starbucks quickly achieve market dominance. With over 20 million regular customers per week, no other American retailer can claim a higher frequency of visiting customers. Since the company went public, sales have risen roughly 20% each year. Even when the rest of the economy seems to be in a slump, loyal patrons keep returning to Starbucks for their regular cup of Joe.”

For employers looking to inject some innovation into their workplace, there’s a lot to take away from Starbucks.

Here are five sure-fire ways to break with tradition and forge new paths in innovation that could just lead your business to venti-sized success.

  1. Self-evaluate

A familiar refrain in the workplace is, “But we’ve ALWAYS done it this way.” Well, how’s that working for you? Managers should consider spending some serious time reflecting on why things are the way they are. Are you relying on tradition, folklore or fact in conducting business? Perhaps what worked in the market five years ago is no longer effective because of a change in technology or a subtle shift in the client base. Large organizations are especially guilty of “legacy inertia” because they often have invested too much time and money in the systems and processes that are in place, and managers are reluctant to risk the status quo. But they should sit down and do the math — literally. Numbers don’t lie, and if yours have not changed for the better, then it’s time to strategize.

  1. Go Left

To put it simply, when everybody else is going right, try going left. Take a calculated and well-researched risk, try something new and measure the outcome. An innovative business strategy can make you stand out from the pack and stick out in consumers’ minds. Take retail co-op REI, for example. Last year, CEO Jerry Stritzke announced the stores, which specialize in fitness and outdoor gear, would close on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, giving employees a paid day off. The chain urged customers to spend the day outdoors instead of shopping. Stritzke told CNN that the move would definitely eat into profits, but it was worth it to reinforce the company’s mission . By jumping off the bandwagon, REI was able to differentiate itself from other retailers and build customer loyalty.

  1. Start Small

If big changes are too risky, too expensive or just plain impossible, start small. Try a low-impact project and see what happens. If it works, then find ways to expand it. If it’s a colossal failure, abandon it and try something else. There’s no better example of innovation on this front than Google. The search engine tweaked its algorithms early on to change the quality of search results. The idea was so successful with users that Google is now the most widely used search engine in the world and the company’s name has passed into our vernacular as a verb.

  1. Celebrate Success

It seems a little silly, but celebrating success reinvigorates workers and promotes a positive vibe in the office — and that can stoke innovate ideas from employees. We’re not talking about an Employee of the Year award or other things that tend to single out individuals, but something that allows everyone to feel vested in the team. At WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, CEO Jim Goodmon offers perks for employees throughout the year that run the gamut from potted lilies on Easter to turkeys on Thanksgiving. But several times a year, he hires a coffee caterer to set up in the break room for a few hours and provide free lattes for employees. The lines are always long, giving employees a chance to take a break and chitchat with each other at a relaxed pace. It’s a big change from the deadline-driven environment of television news, and it also allows employees to talk to coworkers from other departments that they rarely see. Sometimes a change in attitude is all it takes to spark innovation.

  1. Don’t Stop

Innovation doesn’t end with one successful change, big or small. The biggest innovators — from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Starbucks’ Schultz — know that success means always pushing forward, constantly revising and learning from mistakes that will inevitably be made along the way.

In 2015, Starbucks expanded its food offerings, began serving wine after dark in some stores, signed new partnerships, improved its mobile app and, yes, opened 1,500 new stores worldwide. “Those who talk about saturation obviously don’t understand our business strategy,” Schultz said. What’s yours?

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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