Ingenuity in Action: 3 Companies That Inspire Us to Think Outside the Box

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Businesses do not become leaders of their industry by sticking to the norm. In order to climb to the top, it takes a little (or even a lot) of creativity and ingenuity. It requires businesses to think outside of the box.

Let’s take a look at three companies that have done just that.

     1. TED

TED—Technology, Entertainment, Design—has done something that no other organization on earth has managed to do. They have created a service that is both one of the most accessible in the world and one of the most exclusive.

As a non-profit that hosts conferences with A-list speakers, TED falls into the company of such events as D: All Things Digital and the World Economic Forum. It exclusively invites the top power players in various fields. What it does differently, though, is share those ideas freely with anyone who has internet access.

It is because of this type of ingenuity that TED runs on a surplus operating budget that goes into the millions, that it has an audience in the billions, and that it easily attracts speakers like Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton, and J.J. Abrams.

So what does TED do differently in their workplace? What sparks such different thinking? Maybe it is the mandated two-week vacation that its employees take every summer.

Summer vacations aren’t a novel concept. Many people take a week off during the warmer months of the year. However, generally these vacations are staggered so that for three months out of the year a company’s full staff is rarely all around. This staggering can create major inefficiency. With TED, productivity in the office is at its peak both before and after the two-week vacation. Plus, everyone gets to take a break, relax, and recharge.

According to the company’s Executive Producer of Media, June Cohen:

“The impact on morale, productivity, and overall happiness is stunning. Plus, imagine how relieving it is to take a two-week vacation when all your work email stops.”

     2. Under Armour

Under Armour is far from the oldest sports apparel company in the world, having only been around for just over two decades. However, this Maryland-based manufacturer is officially the most ingenious sports apparel company—at least according to Forbes.

This ingenuity has led to groundbreaking partnerships with the likes of IBM, the North American Soccer League, and Major League Baseball, just to name a few. And when it comes to products, they have released revolutionary lines that re-circulate heat to other parts of the wearer’s body and lines that suppress smell. And then, there’s Under Armour’s shoes, which are unparalleled in popularity growth—sales grew by more than 30 percent in just a single year.

This growth and ingenuity is likely related to the various efforts that Under Armour has made in the past few years, both internally and externally. Internally, Under Armour has done two things that have proved beneficial.

First, they have done their best to always hire, transfer, and promote internally. When they need help in a certain international region, they send one of their own. They did this with their branch in China, and their profits grew from three million dollars to 80 million dollars in just three years.

Second, Under Armour has found that nurturing a strong company culture is a game changer. They make every effort they can to keep their employees grouped together in central locations. For this very reason, they are in the process of building an enormous new campus in Baltimore that will house their offices, a 100,000 square foot gym, a cafe, athletic fields and courts, and a massive store.

Externally, Under Armour has also made some big moves that have inspired various innovations. They acquired Endomondo, MyFitnessPal, and MapMyFitness in order to bolster their digital health and fitness offering. Doing this also allowed them to begin collecting data on their consumers. They collected data on more than two billion workouts in 2015 alone. And it is from this data that Under Armour can make informed product suggestions to their customers, as well as decide where their efforts need to be concentrated as a company.

     3. Unilever

Unilever is fast approaching the 100-year mark, but although their name might be old, their ideas are anything but. One of the big ways that the company continues to be ingenious is through sustainability.

Unilever has a long and strong record of being environmentally conscious. They were the first large company to source its tea sustainably. They have an established sustainable agriculture program. And most recently, Unilever has made a major commitment to sustainability.

This type of commitment to doing things right is exactly why Unilever is the third largest consumer goods company in the world, has products in 190 countries, and owns more than 400 brands. And Unilever only plans to continue this monumental growth. They have a goal of reducing their environmental impact while also doubling the size of their business. So ingenuity, in their minds, is key.

To spur this ingenuity, Unilever is taking an interesting route. They are looking outside of the organization. They have launched an online platform to ask experts from anywhere and everywhere how to do things better. With this open innovation, Unilever is asking the public how they can make their packaging better, how to make drinking water safer, how to better preserve food, and so much more. According to Unilever’s Open Innovation Portfolio and Scouting Director, Roger Leech, Unilever is doing this because:

“The targets that we have in the Sustainable Living Plan are quite challenging and we recognize that we need to look as much externally as we can to find solutions to those challenges. If we can find those in a timely fashion and get partnerships in place then we have a far better opportunity of actually delivering the plan.”

At times, it can feel like true ingenuity and innovation are just outside our reach, but when we look at businesses like those mentioned above, we see that it is, in fact, attainable. By thinking outside the box and trying new things, we can get closer and closer to our innovation goals. To find out more about how to inspire creativity and ingenuity in your organization, check out how I and my team can help.

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