Dedication to Innovation

Innovation can start as a large formalized team effort, or it can begin small, sometimes small enough to fit on a napkin. Either way, you must start. Below is a short read and tips on encouraging innovation in your workplace.

“There’s a way to do it better – find it.”- Thomas Edison 

In late-summer 1988, 35 miles north of downtown Detroit, debuted The Palace of Auburn Hills, a bold representation of that era’s modern arena. The new home of the Detroit Pistons included groundbreaking suites that provided views from 16 rows above the floor, a sweet spot for a basketball fan that is now replicated in practically every NBA and NHL facility. This award-winning venue was the brainchild of owner Bill Davidson and President Tom Wilson’s desire to create a revolutionary sports and entertainment experience. Overall it boasted a total of 180 suites, a large number for an NFL stadium, let alone an NBA arena. This was a bold move of innovation, as well as risk taking, all the more heightened while immersed in a depressed mid-1980’s economy. The creative gamble would pay off as the venue opened to an NBA championship run and eventually witnessing hundreds of sold-out events over the next three decades.

But the suites breakthrough started somewhat small, on a napkin actually. Just three years prior Wilson began sketching his ideas to the architect to convey his thoughts that stemmed from asking why venues had these VIP seats in the least desirable upper areas of the arenas. Collectively they decided there had to be a better experience for fans, and so creativity as well as determination paid off.

Fast forward 30 years later, and now the Pistons have joined the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings in their shared new home, Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit, with a few of the original planners of the Palace intact, including Wilson. Now just one-year old, this new presentation of the modern venue has already received industry accolades, including the prestigious Sports Facility of the Year Award. Its technological advantages, inventive sight lines, and amenities that helps immerse the venue into the fabric of the community has brought it to the upper echelon of today’s venues.

We see the creativity and innovation trend continue in many of today’s venues as each looks to up the ante in creating unique experiences by integrating emerging technology, design, and food trends to bring viewers from their couches to courtside, stay relevant with their fan base, and grow their affinity with that sports team. In-arena high definition scoreboards, large video walls, and menu boards with dynamic digital content are seemingly ubiquitous, and all are helping to enhance the team-fan relationship. Furthermore, the trend continues in mobile phone interaction apps and kiosks that allow fans to experience and interact with dynamic game content, buy merchandise, and expedite food orders. With these advancements over the last decade we have seen sizeable and worthwhile investments in corporate innovative labs and test kitchen infrastructures led by executives focused exclusively on innovation, research, and development.

Innovation, however, doesn’t have to be defined as a multi-million dollar initiative or a prodigious technological stroke sent forth from Silicon Valley. Innovation can often happen at a very small, local level, a determined thought process that searches for a better solution upon encountering an opportunity, large or small.

Where in your operation do you have opportunities to get better or even lead the way to revolutionize your part of the industry?

Perhaps it’s a new process to speed up service to your guest, improved ways to recruit and retain team members, undertake a new concept development, or the large aim to be the best in the market. All these take different levels of commitment. Ideally, we don’t work in silos, so it’s vital to get input and buy-in from many departments and stakeholders as each can affect the process either positively or negatively. As you and your team begin to look at your operation and create your own innovative solution, here are some useful ways to better facilitate that process:

1.)  You must start by looking to first define the goal as concisely as possible in the process. If you aren’t defining the objective precisely, then you risk going down the wrong path for a solution. For instance, if you are looking to solve why guest counts are down at your establishment, this likely takes a comprehensive approach versus one or two possibilities. In this scenario, the aim is to look at as many pinch points as possible in marketing, website, menu, guest interaction, competitive strengths and weaknesses, and so forth. Encourage team members to ask a lot of questions to help define what needs to be solved.

2.)  If it is a customer solution you seek, then a Journey Map, often called a Customer Journey Map, is a great way to systematically create a better process for all involved. Journey mapping allows team members to jot down thoughts and notes to illustrate the customer’s journey from A-Z, examining the guest’s perspectives and pinch points, pose lots of questions, and find the internal breakdowns along the way. This graphical illustration facilitates great discussions, and can spur even more innovative journeys in the process.

3.)  Get out of the office! New environments invite new perspectives. Getting outdoors or finding a relaxed atmosphere will promote terrific creativity.

4.)  Get input from everyone. As more people are involved in the solution, the more they become genuine stakeholders in the success of your department and organization. Again, insist on lots of dialogue and that no idea, question, or thought is off the table!

5.)  Invite candor but insist all are respectful to each other. This isn’t finger-pointing time! This is way to figure out as a team how we get better at what we do. There will always be some operational breakdowns and this is a forum to see others perspectives, spend some time in their shoes, and make sure YOU are part of solution as much as they are. The key is to inspire those to see everyday functions with a critical eye.

Keep in mind, innovation is never intended to be a one-time process and doesn’t always need to be formalized. Additionally, obstacles may not be solved in one session, or even a week’s worth; and sometimes what you believe to be the right answer, isn’t yet to be the best solution. But if it is important enough to solve, determined team members will eventually strike gold.

As the great Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” In short, keep eyes, ears, AND minds open to groundbreaking success!







1 thought on “Dedication to Innovation”

  1. Excellent article! Great real world examples as well as practical steps and balanced views that can be applied regardless of the industry. Well written Tom!

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