We’ve been asked to engage in more discussions of innovation lately, especially as it relates to cost-effective ways to improve performance cost-effectively. Frequently, we need to begin with a definition of what innovation is, and isn’t.

Innovation is creativity’s more productive cousin. While creativity can have a value simply by existing, as might be the case in art or gymnastics, innovation pays its dues by solving a problem. Innovations have economic value, a burden of proof that is not demanded of creativity.

Usually, when people talk about innovation, there’s some assumption that technology will be involved, but that kind of thinking is no less inside-the-box than any other premise. Two recent clips from The Wall Street Journal make that case quite emphatically.  One article cites a study’s conclusion that the costs of cyber threats and other losses have outweighed the benefits of the internet and related technologies—so far. Another noted that heavy dependence on computers in the classroom can lead to a decline, not an increase, in intended educational outcomes. In fact, the study noted, students who did not use computers at all could achieve more favorable outcomes than the heaviest users.

Ultimately, insistence on technology is no more intrinsically innovative than the decision to use a pencil and paper. (We encountered that reality recently when hanging a group of picture frames. We were looking for laser levelers or a device that would project a grid on the wall and then…wait a minute…what if we just turned a roll of wrapping paper around and used the cutting grid that’s already on the other side?) Innovation doesn’t always require new inventions. Sometimes, all we need is to find a new trick for an old dog.

One of the most effective ways to begin our innovation journey is to revisit our assumptions. Often, we can’t think outside the box because we have built a very solid enclosure for ourselves. Did we limit ourselves five years ago when we chose the data points we would track, leading to a lack of insight where we need it most? Do we believe our customers want more product features because we asked them in a well-designed survey, or are we all working on an assumption made at a staff meeting in 1972? Did somebody mishandle a project three years ago, and now we believe it was the concept itself, not the implementation, that was the source of failure?

When we take a fresh look at our assumptions, we start building a new box, or maybe a house with windows and GPS and a satellite view overhead. It’s not merely a matter of asking how we can do something a different way. First, it’s important to re-examine our definition and measurement of the issue, whether our existing process really addresses the situation productively, and whether the goal we want to achieve is a measurably desirable end.

Ultimately, the true test of innovation is whether it works. Does a new approach or a new idea or a new definition lead to improved results? The first step in our journey of discovery—and improvement—is to define not just where you are, but how you got there.


Quadrant Five taps the full potential of strategic customer relationships to build both today’s profitability and tomorrow’s exit value. We make the critical connection between internal financial drivers and the value perceptions of A-List customers, generating returns for clients who must:

  • Identify the shortest path to stronger profitability.
  • Build enterprise value in advance of a liquidity event.
  • Develop a strategic plan that can be implemented successfully.
  • Perform customer/market due diligence on an acquisition target.
  • Accelerate profitable integration of a merged business.
  • Protect against customer turnover or lost sales.
  • Recoup the cash that is wasted on unprofitable marketing/sales initiatives.

To learn more, please contact Michael Rosenbaum ( or visit our website (