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Aug 01 2018 / Round the Table Magazine

READ 00:04:18

5 mindsets to drive innovation

Tech entrepreneur Linkner identifies the path to achieving success through creativity.

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Competing with two other companies for a multimillion-dollar account, Josh Linkner suddenly found himself seated in first class next to the prospect he was trying to convince to hire him. It might have seemed like the perfect opportunity for Linkner, the founder and CEO of digital promotions startup ePrize, to talk business with the representative from Conagra Foods.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“I said, ‘I’d love to chat, but I have a ton of work to catch up on,’” Linkner recalled. “‘I noticed your wife is sitting in the back; how about she and I switch seats? You can enjoy family time, and I’ll get my work done back in coach.’”

By the time the flight landed, Linkner had an email saying the $30 million deal had been closed. In fact, the Conagra rep put the process in motion before the plane even took off.

“He later told me, ‘I was looking for a tiebreaker. All three competing companies were solid, but when you demonstrated humanity instead of chasing the bottom line and were innovative in an everyday situation, that’s when I made my decision.’”

Every day, people win or lose these tiebreaker situations, Linkner said, and the outcome is often driven by who can deliver creativity and innovation.

To use this approach with clients, staff or others, Linkner — who has launched and sold five tech companies for more than $200 million — recommended incorporating these five mindsets:

1. Every barrier can be penetrated.

This means believing that no matter how difficult an obstacle may feel, imagination can solve any problem. For example: When an Air Canada flight spent seven hours on a Toronto runway and told the passengers no more food could be distributed, a nearby WestJet pilot climbed up the stairs to the Air Canada plane with a stack of pizzas for the unhappy passengers. Not only did this make a huge impact on the people on the plane, tweets about the WestJet pilot’s generosity went viral and gave the airline a competitive advantage. “The man who says it can’t be done,” Linkner said, quoting a Chinese proverb, “should not interrupt the man doing it.”

Every day, people win or lose tiebreaker situations, and the outcome is driven by who can deliver creativity and innovation.

2. Video killed the radio star.

The statement comes from the 1979 song, the first one ever played as a music video on MTV. Clearly, the meaning is about letting go of the past in favor of the innovations of the future, embracing possibility over tradition. Linkner identified how ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s has stayed relevant by refusing to hold tightly to formerly popular flavors. Instead, they hold a business funeral for the flavor, celebrating its success and remembering it on the brand’s website but making room on its menu for something newer that is of greater interest to consumers at the time. Rather than doing something in a traditional way, Linkner said, consider how to give it a “judo flip,” turning it upside down to give a more compelling, oppositional approach.

3. Change the rules to get the jewels.

By adjusting your approach, you can inspire a new wave of unexpected ideas. We often overestimate the risk of trying something new and underestimate the risk of standing still, Linkner said. For example: Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” was created when the author received a challenge from the CEO of Random House Publishing to write a children’s book using only 50 different words. The limitations led to inspiration and one of the most successful kids’ books of all time. Similarly, when the makers of Monopoly learned that half the players of the game cheat, its makers devised a new version of the game, Monopoly: Cheaters Edition, which put a new spin on the game’s original success.

If you're not stumbling, you're not going fast enough. If you get back up off the mat, you'll win over and over.

4. Seek the unexpected.

To stand out, people must challenge the status quo and give others a reason to remember you. When a children’s hospital in Pittsburgh wanted to create a better experience, they could have done something simple and predictable, like offering softer pillows. Instead, they started having window washers dress up like superheroes, taking the kids’ attention away from the medical care and giving them something to look forward to each time. This did not require a lot of time or money, just creativity and a willingness to take a chance on doing things differently.

5. Seek the unexpected.

Fall seven times, stand eight. This principle, based on a Zen proverb, comes from the idea that success often comes simply from determination and resilience. If you experience a setback, find a way to do more with less and fight back with even more creativity. Jack Ma was the only one not to be hired when 24 people applied to work at a new Kentucky Fried Chicken in China. Instead of giving up, he co-founded Alibaba Group, which Linkner described as the “Amazon of China.” “If you’re not stumbling, you’re not going fast enough,” Linkner said. “If you get back up off the mat, you’ll win over and over.”