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Innovation Leader or Innovation Roadkill?

Posted by Gabe Solomon on Aug 14, 2013 5:27:00 PM


If you’re a business owner or key decision maker in your company, you’re responsible for making sure your business is growing.

Growing Clients.  Growing Revenue.  Growing Profits.

You know growth doesn’t just happen by itself.  When you incrementally grow your business, chances are you brought some level of innovation to the way you typically do things.  You bought a new piece of equipment to serve new clients.  You acquired a new capability that cut costs.  You convinced an existing client to try something new in their show.

The question isn’t whether you innovate or not. It’s whether innovation is a one-time event or part of your business DNA?

Read on to learn how to make innovation part of everything your company does.

70-20-10 Rule


When it comes to adding innovation as a regular part of running MertzCrew, we use and recommend a 70-20-10 approach.  We adapted this from Google’s Eric Schmidt model of creating a culture of innovation.

The approach is simple.  Every year:

  • 70% of what we do is activities that we know work and have done in the past.
  • 20% are new activities we feel confident will work and improve what we do.
  • 10% are completely new activities, but have potential to give us big benefits.

Mind.  Blown.  Right?

Probably not.  You might be reading this and saying to yourself “We do this already!”  The questions are Do you do it for all parts of your business? and Do you do it every year?

Not convinced?  Gather around for story-time.


The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides.
– Amiel, Henri Frederic

Did you know Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975?  Did you also know that the 131 year-old company unraveled over a 6-year period from 2005-2011?  Kodak spentyears trying to make sure they understood the new digital camera market perfectly.  By the time they started to actually sell digital cameras, people shifted to using the cameras on their cell phones as their primary device for photos.

Kodak missed the moment.  Kodak was once the 5th most valuable brand in the world with a stock price of $90+ per share and a 90% market share in film.  Today, they are all but forgotten with a stock price of $0.09/share.

Moral:  If you aren’t driving innovation, it’s running you over.

Sam Adams

We love beer.  We love Sam Adams beer.  Did you know that Sam Adams brewed 700 different beerslast year?  They also introduced new packaging, hops-harvesting techniques, and distribution plans.  Not every innovation is guaranteed to be a success, but you can bet several will be here to stay.

Founder Jim Koch built innovation into everything they do.  He introduced a bolder, premium beer at a time when the market was dominated by mainstream beers like Budweiser and Miller, and the only new innovation was Tastes Great, Less Filling.

30 years later, Sam Adams is continuing to grow, while Budweiser and Miller have been sold to foreign holding companies.

Moral:  Dedication to innovation drives the industry.

Putting 70-20-10 into practice

The list of innovation leaders and roadkill in business is long.  Some companies start as one and end up as the other.  The truly successful leaders are the companies that take a systematic approach to innovation and stay disciplined to include it in their plans every year.


If you’ve been operating more than 5 years, chances are your customers and clients like what you’re doing for them.  Ask your customers and front-line employees to tell you what adds the most value and keep doing it!  This is the foundation of your business.

Watchouts – While its good to keep 70% of your business the same as last year, don’t fall into the complacency trap that it won’t ever change.  Ride the momentum, but don’t let it become sacred.


If you think innovating 20% of your business every year is too aggressive, think about it this way.  If you innovate a different 20% every year, it will take 5 years to touch all parts of your business.  That’s the amount of time most people own their cars.  Doesn’t seem as aggressive when you put it into that context, does it?

Think about your business in four main areas:  Operations, Marketing, Finance, and People.  Now find the one big thing in each area that isn’t working as well as you’d like or could be working better and try something new.  That’s what 20% looks like.

Watchouts – Make sure you have complete buy-in and support of the key leaders in the different areas.  If they aren’t invested in trying something new, you can be certain it will fail.


“The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.”
– Elbert Hubbard, philosopher

This is the fun part.  This is where you try that revolutionary new idea that you read about last week, last month, or last year.  In equipment, maybe you try a new touchscreen-only console.  In technology, you might want to test 100% wireless in one part of your show.  In policies, you might want to try a new way to pay freelancers (www.mertzcrew.com).

The key is to make it meaningful with an opportunity to make a real impact to your business.  If it can’t grow your revenue by 5% or cut costs by 5%, then don’t waste your time.

Watchouts – Make sure it’s not random.  You’ve been around long enough to know when you have that one nagging idea that you really believe in, but you haven’t quite built up the courage to try it.  That’s what you want to make your 10%.

Wrap Up

MertzCrew falls into all three innovation areas with our clients.  For some, we are firmly in the 70% and part of their regular core business practices.  For others, they are trying us in different areas of their operations and we’re in the 20%.  Finally, some have just decided to try us for the first time, making us their 10%.

We know we can reduce your freelancing administrative costs by more than 5% (and make the freelancers happier at the same time).  Contact us today to make us part of your 10% innovation plan.

Topics: Innovation