Turn the small screws

think-small-imageThink big! Blue sky! Anything is possible! Let’s build the next iPhone. Or better, let’s disrupt our own business model with a seismic market change, like iTunes. No…wait, like Spotify!

This kind of collaborative bluster is akin to throwing a Hail Mary in the waning seconds. Possible, yes. Probable, no.

I was reminded of a valuable trick from Seth Kahan the other day on how to build predictable innovation. More often, it’s in the small tweaks of what you already know, not the big grandiose changes – that generates consistent wins by building incremental value.

Indeed, Seth does have lessons on how to identify big-picture shifting market inflection points and how to capitalize on them. But the kind of value building that leads to reliable market leadership is about parsing out the pieces of our value chain, examining each, and tweaking steadily toward constant excellence.

I once had a conversation with Patagonia founder and CEO Yvon Chouinard who told me he has yet to find a business or product problem that cannot be solved by increasing quality. Patagonia is a company that has built a legacy of consistent product integrity and innovation. From rock climbing pitons to the source of their cotton to the dying processes they use, Patagonia has been chasing excellence and success for over forty years.

“We have 1,500 styles of clothing and shoes, and we follow every one of those products all the way from the farmer to the very end to make sure there’s no unintended consequences of our actions and it’s as clean as we can possibly make it.”
– Yvon Chouinard

In that same spirit, Kahan’s advice is to look at all the parts that contribute to the whole – the supplier, the transport, the assembly, the quality assurance, the delivery, point of sale, customer service, etc… and peel away the layers of each part of the process. In doing so, you’ll find something to improve. Always. Don’t think big. Think small. Innovation will follow.