Innovation is a popular word in the business community, showing up in the corporate statements of 38 percent of the top North American companies.
The problem is that while business leaders love to talk about being innovative, few companies actually seem to do it, said Sohrab Vossoughi, president and founder of Ziba Design, a Portland, Ore.-based company that works with a cross section of manufacturers to help them create products consumers want.
``Merely to say that you innovate does not guarantee success,'' Vossoughi said March 6 during the Plastics News Executive Forum in Tampa.
It is about more than giving products a face lift, he said. To truly innovate, manufacturers have to connect with their customers - and those customers then must buy into what is offered.
``Innovation is not what companies do. It's what people adopt,'' Vossoughi said.
There are strong examples of innovative companies in the marketplace, with firms that have created icons, companies like Starbucks and Apple Computer.
But firms do not have to have high-tech brands to succeed. Old-line manufacturer Clorox Co. created a new way to clean floors when it came up with not only a liquid cleanser, but also a mop and dispensing system in the ReadyMop, Vossoughi said. That combination boosted sales and the company's bottom line.
Innovation means more than connecting with a consumer at the store. Smaller manufacturers can innovate by connecting with their customers in the supply structure just as well - and help both firms survive.
Companies making products for the consumer market want to know about colors, textures and materials that can help sell their products, he said. Often, though, they do not know about everything that is available. Instead they rely on suppliers to get that information to them.
``You cannot think of manufacturers and suppliers as somehow out of this [product design] loop,'' Vossoughi said. ``We may have come across what we think of as a problem in creating a new product, but that problem may have been solved somewhere else down the line, and we have no idea what that solution is.
``Innovation cannot happen in a vacuum.''
Suppliers who understand what they can offer for new designs and products have a better chance of becoming part of the next big thing.
``Six Sigma, lean manufacturing - that's just the start of the game,'' he said. ``After that, it's all about innovation. It's about being something different that the others are not.''