Are You (Mistakenly) Trying to Reinvent the Wheel?

Why reinvent the wheel


Many people have the incorrect notion that innovation is totally, completely new. That, an idea doesn’t qualify as innovative unless it breaks ground similar to when Al Gore invented the internet.

But of course, that’s not true. Innovative ideas are usually built on top of other ideas, advancing it one step at a time.

Back in the 1980s, I worked for a design firm called StudioWorks in New York. The first time I walked into the StudioWorks loft, it exuded everything I had imaged about the edgy side of New York design. After getting off a rickety elevator on the top floor, the door opened to an expansive sunlit loft space with 20-foot ceilings, drawing tables everywhere, artwork on the walls, and design sketches neatly arranged on a large conference table in the middle of the floor. The most striking sight was the expansive presence of the Empire State Building seven blocks to the north.

Keith Godard, one of the firm’s partners, is a highly regarded British designer who’s been living in the United States since the 1970s. He’s an icon in the graphic design field, and I was lucky enough to have him as my first boss, my mentor, and the person to whom I looked for design guidance.

I was fascinated by how Keith designed. His designs burst at the seams. His work was about the concept, the big idea – an approach that I eventually realized extends directly into problem solving in the sales environment.

One day as I watched Keith work, I commented that one of his ideas might have had an uncanny resemblance to something I had seen before in a great piece of design. I was hesitant with my comment, concerned about saying something wrong or offending him. But instead of a hostile reaction, Keith looked at me wryly and said, “Well that must mean it’s good, mustn’t it?” With that one comment Keith offered me a bit of insight: All good ideas aren’t totally new.

And so it is in sales innovation. One of the challenges is the belief that a good, creative strategy or customer solution has to be completely new. The pressure to innovate and draw out previously unheard of ideas can actually stifle innovation.

Look at what’s been done before in your company, your industry, and even outside of commercial businesses for inspiration to solve a problem. Combine ideas from multiple sources, or take an idea and customize it for your specific sales problem.

Innovation is more realistically built step by step, rather than miles at a time.


Last week I wrote about taking apart your problem statement, and using it to source new ideas. Contact me at with any questions.

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