Businesses that stay the same never seem to do well. Take Nokia – they started as a paper mill, but over time evolved into the communications giant they are today! Any good business course will tell you that with changing technology comes the need for your business to be flexible. If it isn’t, chances are your business won’t do as well as you’d hoped. And what brings on change?
Innovation is what keeps businesses going, growing, and running. Particularly in tough economic times like these, new ideas are what give any business the edge to remain afloat and ahead of their competition. Competitive advantage is what all business is about: ideas, practices, concepts, business methods, or anything else that gives your business the opportunity to outperform over others.
On any given day, a company we all know well, UPS, delivers almost 16 million packages, documents, and letters to countries around the world. They have almost 100,000 vehicles in their fleet, composed of cars, vans, tractors, motorcycles, and the iconic signature brown UPS trucks we see everywhere! It is virtually impossible not to see them rounding corners and parking all over the place while the driver runs in to drop off whatever parcel they are delivering. One thing you may not have noticed, however, about UPS trucks:
They. Don’t. Turn. Left.
That’s right. In 2004, after evaluating rising transportation costs and their environmental impact via CO2 emissions, UPS implemented a novel idea: cut out left turns. They plan delivery routes to avoid the need to turn left; simply by eliminating the time spent idling and waiting for the light signals to turn left, they managed to dramatically reduce fuel costs and several other expense factors. Obviously, in some cases it isn’t possible to totally eliminate it, but by planning to avoid it, UPS estimates that in 2006 they saved over 28.5 million miles of travel and over 3 million gallons of fuel – at 2006 prices (roughly $2.60 per gallon) that would be equivalent to about $7.8 million – just on fuel costs. Include the decreased labor hours, 28.5 million miles less of maintenance, reduction in accidents (left turns have high-accident occurrence rate), reduced environmental impact, and everything else, and UPS saves tens of millions of dollars per year with this one, simple, innovative change.
UPS looked at their existing business and found a new way to improve it. This gives them more money to grow their business, explore new avenues, and find other ways to grow! The UPS example illustrates the power of taking innovative, out-of-the-box, off-the-wall, even crazy ideas – ones which your competitors might scoff at – and Take a look at your business – what areas are going to help you grow? How can you improve your offerings, reduce your unnecessary costs, or add value to your products? Are there any new niches you might want to expand into?
Innovation is what keeps any business running. You already have several competitive advantages - you know what they are. Be they you business model, government sales, a particular patent, that special client, or an unusual business practice, there’s always room for improvement or expansion – who knows, maybe you can discover your own ‘turn-about’ idea!