7 Proven Ways to Steal Winning Ideas

Last Updated May 11, 2010 4:42 AM EDT

There is nothing new under the sun. Even Sir Isaac Newton commented that his groundbreaking laws of motion and gravity could only have happened because he had been "standing on the shoulders of giants."

Innovation is no different. In most cases it involves taking something that already exists, changing it in some way, and creating something new.

The skill is to make it into something better or different.

As TS Elliot once wrote: "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different."

Here are seven ways in which you can steal, improve and innovate. Which of these approaches could you adopt in your business to dramatically accelerate growth?

  1. Find new applications for existing technologies. Sir James Dyson's bag-less vacuum cleaner technology was inspired by the way a local sawmill used a giant cyclone to lift and remove sawdust from the air.
  2. Combine disparate technologies. Apple's iPod and iTunes, brought together the digital downloading technology pioneered by Napster, Creative's MP3 player technology, and Apple's existing software and hardware development capabilities, to create an integrated, intuitive music system.
  3. Take existing innovations into new markets. B&Q's management team were inspired by US retailer Home Depot when they created their large, out-of-town DIY concept.
  4. Dramatically improve the performance of existing products and services. Gillette has created a stranglehold on the razor market as a result of its ongoing improvements to the deceptively complex technology of a blade attached to a handle.
  5. Radically reduce the cost and accessibility of existing products, services and technologies. George at Asda has become the UK's number one clothing brand based on the grocer's ability to exploit its low-cost retail space, operating model and supply chain and offer its customers a significant price discount on everyday fashion.
  6. Make existing products and technologies far easier to use. The detergent brand Ariel created a lead in its category by replacing traditional washing powder with solid tablets, which are far easier for customers to handle.
  7. Translate successful business models from one industry to another. UK train company, Chiltern Railways, has adopted elements of the low-fare airlines' business model to offer its passengers a low-price, low-service (there are no first class carriages, for instance) rail service between London and the Midlands.
(Pic: Hassan & Mariko cc2.0)
  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.