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  • Marc Curtis

How adjacencies can change everything

Very much like a Baskin Robins ice-cream shop from the 1990s, innovation can come in many different flavours.

What could be considered innovative in one business could seem like well-trodden ground for another. Some industries excel at research and development, whilst others have found a system that works for them and may decide that “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

For me innovation comes in two main flavours.

Vanilla – Ideas that solve problems

Mint choc chip – Ideas that can create new opportunities

Everyone likes vanilla. It’s dependable, it’s solid and you know you’re going to get a nice ice-cream. Like vanilla ice-cream, solving problems is a win/win. If you’re solving your customers’ problems, you will end up with happy customers who want to buy more from you. If you’re solving internal problems, you’re going to end up with a more efficient and happy company.

Mint-choc chip on the other hand can be tricky. Not everyone likes mint and some may even decide that lumps of chocolate have no place in an ice-cream. Innovation that can create opportunity is by its nature, riskier. You may be trying some entirely new, it might require heaving financial and human investment; and in the end you may find that your customers don’t even want it.

What if I told you that there was a way of creating innovation opportunities whilst reducing some of the risk of trying something new? What if you could have an ice-cream that the novelty of mint-choc-chip and the surety of a classic vanilla?

Well, you’re in luck. Let me tell you about adjacencies. (I’m also going to leave the ice-cream metaphor alone for a bit)

In Innovation, adjacencies are opportunities that utilise skills or capabilities we already have, but applied to different sectors or markets.

Let me give you an (over simplified) example.

In the early 2000s Fujifilm was rapidly losing market share to the nascent boom in digital photography. Rather than ignoring the change in consumer behaviour, they looked at what other applications their expertise in film manufacturing could be used for.

It turns out that the technology used to prevent colour in photographs from fading could be applied to cosmetics. They founded a new division in 2006 called ‘Life Sciences’.

Fast forward to 2020, and Fujifilm now makes only 1% of their income from film. The rest of the company is now extremely successful in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

The adjacency Fujifilm exploited was their core competencies around chemistry and manufacturing. Their CEO took some bold decisions and ultimately prospered while their biggest competitor, Kodak, failed.

Understanding the opportunities represented by adjacencies means seeing beyond our traditional markets and thinking how our expertise can be applied to new types of customers in new sectors.

One of my favourite definitions of Innovation is: “Solving problems using existing technology in new ways”. When we apply this to adjacency opportunities this opens up a whole new world.

How could we use our expertise in logistics, our global customer base, our industry leading customer care, our IT and data resources or even our sales force in new sectors, solving new problems?

Now is a great time to be thinking about this. At the beginning of October we launched our global innovation initiative, Lyreco Pioneers. This is a great moment to be thinking about what adjacent markets we could apply our skills and expertise to.

If you’re one of our 12,000 Lyreco people, this is your chance to enter your idea into the program – and if you don’t work for a Lyreco company… we’re always looking for people with passion and big ideas!

And next time you’re choosing an ice-cream – maybe try the flavour next to vanilla – it could change your life!


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