Discovering Innovation Around the House

Last night I was hungry and decided to make some tuna fish. I opened my refrigerator and found an 18 ounce squeeze bottle of mayonnaise. As I started to make my meal, I realized that the mayo had expired 6 months ago. I guess I don’t use it very often because the bottle was still 90% full.

After throwing out my expired food, I realized that there is a lot to learn from things we take for granted around the house. Here are just three thoughts I had this morning:

Fail Cheaply – Although Costco is one of my favorite stores, I rarely buy perishable items there because I can’t predict how much I will use. Sometimes, as is the case with my mayo, buying the smallest size and paying a premium is better than saving money on larger quantities. Smaller quantities result in less space used, less waste when things don’t work out, and lower costs all around. In business, your best bet is to become masterful at creating small, inexpensive and scalable experiments that give you insights into the real world… not just backroom-based predictions. As you gain new insights and become more confident that a new idea will work (i.e., there is greater predictability), then you can ramp up and go for efficiency.

Sell One, Make One – I debated using a different example for this… One situation no one ever wants to be in is sitting on the toilet and running out of toilet paper. The best solution is to always have a spare roll within reach. When the main roll is finished, the spare role is put into the dispenser, and the backup roll is replaced. This is an example of a simple manufacturing technique called “sell one, make one.” To avoid running out of product, companies often produce large quantities of inventory. But as we saw in the “fail cheaply” example above, this can lead to waste. Items that don’t sell need to be liquidated at significant discounts. In the meantime, the inventory takes up space and hurts your cash flow. Instead, if you get your manufacturing process (or your innovation implementation process) efficient enough, you can make one immediately after you sell one – that is, when you sell one, you make one. You will never run out if demand never exceeds your ability to manufacture.

Lather Rinse But Don’t Repeat – Shampoo bottles are famous for telling you to lather, rinse, and repeat. I have been doing it every morning without thinking. As an experiment, I tried skipping the repeat step. No difference. I even experimented with using less than one pump of shampoo. Same result. Sometimes we take on wasteful activities because we never through to step back and question them. I reduced shampoo usage by 75% without any impact on my hair. From my experience, most companies can reduce wasteful activities simply by questioning what has always been done in the past.

Here’s something to try. Every day, find something interesting around the house:

  • It could be the upside-down ketchup bottle (what took them so long to come up with that idea?).
  • It could be the laundry detergent that is super concentrated so you use 75% less liquid, meaning less packaging and easier carrying.
  • Or maybe it is the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes that impregnate paper towels with cleaning solution to simplify cleaning.

After selecting your innovation, see how that concept could be applied to your business. Do not look for ways to apply that specific product. Instead you want to apply the thought process that was used in developing the product. For example, with the Clorox wipes, where in your business can you combine two distinct items (products or processes) to create something that is simpler and more efficient.

The purpose is not necessarily to find new ideas (although that would be nice). Rather it is a great way to exercise your creativity muscle.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc, once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect… connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

Or, in my words, creativity is about “collecting and connecting” dots.

This daily exercise will help you become more observant (collecting dots). And it will help you become masterful at connecting dots. All of this will help you become more creative every day.

For more on my perspective on creativity, read my article on “Dot Versus Line” thinking.

Stephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

Stephen Shapiro




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