Innovation, not originality, is the key to better business.
Practice Management & Strategic Issues

Innovation, not originality, is the key to better business.

July 29, 2022

by Tony Vidler  CFP logo   CLU logo  ChFC logo

innovate_738694911Everyone wants to grow their business, and everyone is looking for new ideas to do it.  But nearly everyone wants the magical original idea that nobody else has ever thought of before, that will guarantee results quickly.


Innovation is by definition original, but originality is not necessarily the same as innovation. Science and technology throw up entirely new ideas and methods for us almost daily however in sales and marketing finding a “brand-new-never-thought-of-before” thing is not necessarily the goal.  Finding a new way to use existing knowledge and/or systems and/or tools is innovation – and THAT is the goal. Innovation can be the magic ingredient for accelerated growth or disproportionately profitable performance.


Think “iphone”.  Disproportionately profitable performance and capture of market share.  Sure there was some new technology in there, but much of it was known technology too.  They found a new way to use existing knowledge and blend it with some new thinking to create something incredibly original….but the innovation began with using the known technology.


Nobody knows or remembers who invented the wheel.  At some point in history THAT was truly original thought.  It was the sort of technological breakthrough in thought and design (and implementation of concept) that changed the world and was completely new thinking.


All of us can think of people who have done clever things with wheels since then though can’t we?  They’ve arranged them in new ways, or used them to achieve outcomes that nobody had previously thought of….and THAT is innovation.


What inspired this train of thought was a discussion with a professional who was looking for the new cunning idea that would guarantee his success.  The adviser was disappointed that I didn’t have it on hand to deliver….and seemed completely oblivious to the irony of the request: somebody wanting to be creative and original and thinking that they were going to get it delivered neatly packaged and ready to use from someone they were hiring by the hour – and then claim all the upside and intellectual property attached to it for themselves.


This particular adviser had got to the point of thinking that “his” big original thought would be something to do with how social media was being used in financial services.  It would be the THING, that us old folk didn’t get, that he’d be able to use in a way nobody had ever thought of before.  Yet he was asking some old folk who didn’t get it to come up with “his innovation”.  As I said….ironic.



The real mistake (and I am sure we have all made it at some point in our lives) was ignoring the importance of knowing and understanding the paths already well trodden.  Knowing and understanding what has been tried before, and why it did or did not work, is crucial to successful innovation in professional services.  It is combining the old and the new that leads to easy to implement innovation – it is not just about dropping the old and finding an entirely new strategy or technology.  Innovation in professional services is about evolution of thinking and methodology rather than reinvention.


While originality is to be applauded and encouraged, we must first learn to do well those things that have been proven to lead to success.  Many good men and women have failed in this business because they decided to chart their own courses before they learned the rules of navigation.  Others learned by those mistakes and we should too. We haven’t time to make all the same mistakes others have. Those who spurn learning prepared sales presentations are wrong.  They work.  They have worked for others, they are field and time tested and they will work for you if you will learn them and use them.   Lots of time later, when you are established, you can compose your own sure-fire sales getter.  If you are wrong, you’ve always got the old tried and true to fall back on.   If you try your own now and it does not work, and it is likely not to (how can you possibly know more as a green rookie than that which life insurance companies have learned over nearly two centuries of trial and error) – you are looking for a new job.”

This is attributed to Alden C. Palmer, and was delivered in a presentation titled the “Penalty of Being Original” in 1959, and it was paraphrased by Fraser A. Hale later in another book.  There remains a fundamental truth in this text today.


To truly innovate in financial services we must understand the old methods and ways of doing things – and pick out the best parts of them – and then blend them with the new technology and information to do things differently, better, and smarter.   Trying to ignore or abandon the past, and the knowledge of how humans have worked for many thousands of years now, simply to be original is dangerous and the odds of success are not high.  After all, human beings are essentially still the same creatures and they are wired the same way they were a few thousand years ago….and radical new directions are most often resisted.


Combining new methodology, technology or thinking with the customers existing expected outcomes is where innovation lies.  So, to begin innovating in professional services the question becomes:


How does “what you already know” combine with “what you are learning now” to create a “new way” of being better in your business?


If you can keep asking that question, and come up with new answers repeatedly over time, you will be innovating and leading your competitors.


You might also be interested in this related article:
How To Find Your Niche
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