Technology Innovation Insights ™

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The “Inches” for Innovation Are All Around Us

By Alex Jarett


In Any Given Sunday*, Al Pacino as Coach Tony D’Amato gives an incredible half time speech to his team.  Here are a few lines:

“You find out that life is just a game of inches.  So is football.  Because in either game,
life or football, the margin for error is so small.  I mean one half step too late or to early,
you don’t quite make it.  One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in every break of the game
every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch.”

I love that quote and I was happily surprised to hear a similar quote by Brent Laufenberg, VP of Innovation, Rise Interactive, when he said “Innovation for us is small and large.  The inches are around us to improve that customer experience, to get the best return on that ad spend.  To be more efficient as a business.  We’ve engrained this thinking into our culture.  Yes, innovation can be large, but it can also be very small and impactful.  As long as you are persistent about that, as long as you constantly evolve and grow as a process – that’s where the innovation comes. “

Brent sat on a keynote panel from one of our past Summits called, “Using Customer Centric Innovation to Drive Growth.”  Jim Vaselopulos, Sr. VP of PSC Group moderated, and other panelists included Tim Walter, CIO of XSport Fitness, Jeremy Burek, Director of Enabling Applications at Kellogg Company and Brian Clark, VP of IT Operations at

Jim had asked the panel how they defined innovation at their organization.

Here’s what Tim of XSport had to say: “For us, we are looking at how to engage our members, to make the gym membership more than just going to the gym.  We’re trying to figure out by using technology how to engage our customer, especially with wearables, to get them back into the gym but also to be thinking about health constantly and XSport.  Fitness, health, nutrition.  How can this innovation engage the member to benefit them more?”

Brian from added:  “Innovation for us is not about product.  Innovation is in improving the customer experience.  We have two types of customers.  People who buy the coupons, and the restaurants who advertise with us and provide the coupons.  For us, innovation is about helping us either getting or retaining restaurants, or helping or retaining customers to buy more through us.”

Here’s the insight from these leaders:  The next big thing is not always just one thing.  It’s not always a complete shift or new paradigm.  In many ways it’s making what you do already just a little bit better every time.

Patrick Holly, Technology Director and Innovation Lead at The Nielsen Company gave our group a presentation called, “The Innovation Mindset at The Nielsen Company,”  In that presentation, Patrick points to the Japanese practice of Kaizen, which in business terms means continuous improvement.  “Always be fixing and making it better. Make your current products and services better…  Make the box in front of you better.”

YES – the next big thing is worth finding, but the road to the next big thing might just be hidden in the box in front of you, the inches around you.  Focus your attention on innovating the inches around you and you’ll find yourself consistently creating better customer experiences and positive returns from your investments.  Fight for those inches in innovation and you may find the next big thing is right around the corner.



* Any Given Sunday.  Dir. Oliver Stone.  Perf.  Al Pacino.  Warner Brothers. 1999. Film.

Updated: September 13, 2016 — 5:31 pm

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