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Can we talk — upside down innovation?

The media is all abuzz with the concept of “user oriented innovation,” and that is certainly an important innovation trend. But it’s not the only trend. Innovators would do well to recognize that there are many, many other concepts that can help to focus and refocus their innovation efforts.

While everyone focuses on having “customers” modify and design their next product, there is an even more powerful and important trend underway. I call it “upside down innovation,” and it involves new levels of innovation partnership between organizations.

It’s when packaging companies, retailers, and food producers get together to examine new markets and branding opportunities through powerful new ideas. Or when a retailer works with its suppliers to come up with “pre-packaged lifestyle solutions” that offer time starved consumers a neat-solution or new idea. It’s when organizations in a supply chain or industry learn to innovate together — and that can be more powerful than when customers innovate.

I keynoted the American Nursery and Landscape Association in Vail, Colorado, and offered up this example: traditionally, your local garden store features the same, endless rows of plants, in the same old order, often according to their Latin names. There’s no inspiration; there’s no excitement; there’s no solution to the fact that you are a busy consumer and just want to “buy a backyard.”

“Upside-down innovators” take it one step further; they offer a retail environment that provides you with outdoor living solutions. They’ve combined the insight of leading edge retail ideas, with innovative, packaged solutions, and with unique products that “fit” together.

Today, you want to look at a complete “outdoor living room solution,” that happens to include all the elements you need: plants, patio furniture, outdoor entertainment solutions, decor, candles, some wine glasses — and everything else. And that solution has been put together by the retailer with the assistance of their suppliers and packaging companies, into one unique, outdoor lifestyle vignette.

Here’s what upside-down innovators do:

  • partnership is a key focus: they recognize that great ideas might come from others in their supply/production chain
  • collaboration is critical: they know they have challenges in keeping up with all innovation opportunities in this hyper-economy, and are eager to learn how others can help them
  • they focus on providing solutions: innovative companies no longer sell products: they sell entire solutions to customers
  • they refuse to “lay flat” : it might be a flat world, but upside down innovators go to the next step by putting a ripple into the flatness, by approaching innovation in a new way

Upside-down innovation is a critical trend, and one that should be watched carefully, particularly with all the hysteria about user-oriented innovation. After all, customers often don’t know what they need — they didn’t know they wanted an iPod, until they saw one.



  • Creativity, trends and innovation in retail, packaging and consumer goods
  • Read What do you do after the world gets flat? Put a ripple in it!

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