They are adapting to the changes in the marketplace by innovating.

Keys to Prosperity

Extraordinary Lessons To Improve Your Business

By Tom Welch

They may just be the two most important pieces to long-term business success.

The Florida citrus industry thinks they are. So does IBM, the 7th most profitable company in the Country and # 1 in terms of its leaders (FORTUNE). AutoNation, America’s largest automotive retailer, also agrees.

These critical keys to success are creativity and innovation. Let’s look at how the leaders of these organizations took advantage of the concepts to better their business and what lessons we might take away from their actions.

Florida citrus was a growing industry until about ten years ago. However, the past decade has been one of disease, hurricanes, globalization, urbanization and a growing apathy for breakfast on the part of the consumer. Not good news for the farmer.

So, what are they doing? The progressive leaders in the industry are developing new strategies. They are heading in alternative directions. Some are planting new crops, like peaches. Others are cultivating plants which can be used for biofuels. Still others have adjusted their customer base to more lucrative, global markets.

All are following a common theme. They are doing things that they have never done before. They are hatching new ideas. They are adapting to the changes in the marketplace by innovating.

Take away: Create and innovate no matter your industry. Come up with ideas, but also strategize and execute.

IBM has undergone several organizational changes since its inception. Obviously, this technology company has little in common with the citrus industry….except, it too had to change to survive and prosper.

In 2003, with a somewhat directionless future, IBM held on-line discussions with over 50,000 employees. The purpose? No less than helping reshape the company. All the comments and suggestions were analyzed by sophisticated analysis software to hone in on various themes, which led to an updating of IBM values.

One of three new values that emerged from the employee comments was, “Innovation that matters – for our company and for the world.” The following year, they held a similar forum to develop actionable ideas to support the values. Then they got to work.

In 2009, IBM’s blue green super computer program was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama. Earlier this year, IBM gained worldwide attention when its artificial intelligence program, Watson, was victorious over two reigning champions from the TV game show, Jeopardy!

New values. New results. A saved company. A prosperous future. All derived from the ideas of employees. Lou Gerstner, the CEO who is credited with IBM’s turnaround once told me that, “Creativity and innovation are the key business skills.” How right he is and IBM’s current success is proof.

Take away: Empower your people to create and innovate. Act on their ideas.

AutoNation faced a different issue but one that needed fast attention nonetheless. Following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year, the company experienced shortages of Japanese vehicles. At the same time, gas spiraled to nearly $4 per gallon and AutoNation quickly saw its sales fall by 15% compared to the previous year.

Rather than simply waiting out the situation figuring that natural disasters and oil prices are out of their control, the leaders at AutoNation changed both their operating and marketing strategy. They quickly purchased as many assembled Japanese cars as possible. They also cut discounts and advertising on those products. Simultaneously, they decided to increase promotion on domestic vehicles.

Within one month, new car sales for the company had risen by 3% with sales of domestic vehicles up 18%. “Once we realized that there would be unprecedented production interruptions,” said Mike Jackson, AutoNation Chairman and CEO, “we concluded that our 2011 operating plan was obsolete and had to go out the window. We pulled some all nighters to put together a new plan.”

Take away: When you see the need to change, waste no time in taking action to get it done.

When you face any unplanned event, even one out of your control or any unanticipated change in the market, how you adapt your product or service to the new reality may be the key to the future of your business. Know that innovation and creativity are the drivers of your decisions.

Tom Welch, America’s Career Coach, is a leadership and peak performance expert. He is an executive coach to global leaders who want to accelerate business results. Tom helps people and organizations excel. Contact Tom at or visit

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