When you think about the many innovative businesses in the world, the ones who continue to lead rather than follow, what names pop into your mind? Now think about the companies that immediately registered in your brain and ask yourself what common thread links them all. It’s not success but rather creativity and an ability to boldly go where no other business has gone that has made these companies flourish despite setbacks and competition.
Not content to rest on their previous achievements, businesses like the ones mentioned below have kept moving forward by expanding products and services to bring more and more customers into the fold.
In the dictionary, there probably should be an Apple logo next to the definition of innovative. What Apple has routinely done is introduce products that you don’t even know you need and then develop the market for those products. The iPad is a perfect example – somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop, even many techies still haven’t figured out exactly what the device should be used for. Some have called it nothing more than a glorified PDA. Others say it’s too bulky to be an everyday device. Even with these naysayers, more than 260 million units have been sold, making it an overwhelming success.
With the Apple Watch being touted as the next big thing, you probably think that the company is spending tons of their money on research and development, right? What you may not know is that R&D spending at Apple is a paltry 3.1% of their sales. Compare that to 15.4% for Microsoft or 16.1% for Intel. The phenomenon with Apple is how accurate their creative team is. Few Apple products fail, in part because of their ability to come up with groundbreaking products all the time and in part because of the public drive to own Apple devices. Creative products plus creative (and quite effective) marketing equals a world leader in innovation.
Let’s go ahead and get the big two out of the way. Google is a powerhouse and more than anything else, they’re an advertising company. Yes, you heard that right. Nearly all of Google’s revenue stems from advertising, which means they are firmly entrenched in the business of selling ads. You might argue that Gmail, YouTube, Maps, the ubiquitous search engine, and countless other Google projects must be bringing in some kind of money, but the truth of the matter is that this is where Google’s creativity shines. By offering the kind of products you want and need to use for free, the company is building a captive audience and increasing their advertising potential.
That’s not to say that Google products are bad – quite the contrary, in fact. Loved by many, there are few email programs out there that can compete with Gmail in terms of function and features. In developing products that are fully realized and light years ahead of competitors, Google is making a commitment to quality, one that is recognized by customers and attracts loyal clients. It’s true that Google has had their fair share of misses, with Google Glass and the ghost town of a social network Google+ being just a few recent examples. However, you can expect that the behemoth of Google will continue bringing you the products you can’t live without (as long as there are ads involved).
Like Google, the Japanese gaming company Nintendo has also made plenty of missteps along the way. As the story goes, the business has always been involved in games, starting with playing card production way back in 1889 and then moving to video games when they started to become a viable option. However, what this story leaves out is the fact that Nintendo tried aggressively to expand into other industries but came up with nearly catastrophic failures. Would you believe that your beloved Nintendo was also the proprietor of an instant rice company, a TV network, taxis, and even a chain of love hotels (you can surely guess what that means)?
The story here is not to stick with what you’re good at, but rather that a business needs to be willing to recognize their failures and move forward. Had one of the other Nintendo ventures like the love hotels succeeded, you may have a very different view today of Mario, Luigi, and the Princess. By continuing to try new ventures and expand their line of products and services (however absurd), Nintendo eventually found what they were looking for – gaming. And as it is said, the rest is history.
Another popular face in the gaming world that has shown their creativity in recent times is PokerStars, the leading online poker platform. It’s no secret that PokerStars has basically conquered online poker, but the company continues to expand in innovative ways. As many online poker players also have sports betting and online casino accounts, one of the natural moves was to bring these services all under one roof. The PokerStars casino is available from the same software client and steps are being made to bring sports betting to all of its customers.
PokerStars also has made the bold move of stepping out from their online comfort zone and reaching out to live poker as well, with partnerships being made with several prominent casinos. In addition to running the PokerStars Live cardroom at the Hippodrome Casino in London, the company has also backed many different live poker tours, such as the Latin America Poker Tour and the European Poker Tour to increase their brand awareness and introduce the live version of the game to its millions of online players. Creative solutions and customer service have always been the name of the game for PokerStars and their new efforts show both attributes flawlessly.
While some companies like PokerStars can succeed just by creatively expanding their current offerings, other cases may require a complete change of direction for success. Known in business jargon as a pivot, Gap is an excellent example of a company that started off with one idea and ended up as a very different type of business indeed. Surely you’re aware of Gap chain of retail stores (if not, just go to your local mall – it’s probably there) – decent quality clothing at reasonable prices. Gap filled the niche between cheaper clothing companies (think Old Navy – a different Gap brand) and high fashion by producing medium level goods that resonated well with buyers. But it wasn’t always that way.
When Doris and Donald Fisher first opened their San Francisco doors in the fateful year of 1969, Gap was a combination record and jeans store for young adults, with the name coming from the concept of the generation gap (we’re lucky they chose that name instead of Pants and Discs, another idea). Realizing that the market for quality jeans was much better than music at the time, the Fishers abandoned the records and focused on the clothing. The move proved to be a smart one and now the company is worth more than $15 billion, with stores all over the world and the brand turning into a household name.
It’s hard to talk about innovation without at least mentioning entrepreneur Elon Musk and his expanding catalog of companies and ambitious ideas. Starting off with PayPal (an online payments provider and true pivot business) and then X.com, Musk had already built a considerable fortune, but his desire to branch out into more exotic ventures was too strong to contain. Space exploration (SpaceX), electric cars (Tesla Motors), renewable energy (SolarCity), and intercity transportation (Hyperloop) are just a few of the industries that the entrepreneur is involved in. If creativity is the name of the game, then Musk certainly has it in spades.
Getting it right in business is not an easy thing. Even if you’re first idea is a great one, it takes more to achieve the kind of success as the companies mentioned above. What they’ve done well is to maintain a creative spirit regardless of their success and work to expand their products and services to increase their customers. While each move may not be an instant hit (and many are failures), the bold, creative thinking is what has moved these companies from being a moderate startup into the global success stories that they have become.