Who says innovation has to be difficult? While game-changing breakthrough technologies and new scientific discoveries tend to hog media headlines, it bears remembering: Evolutionary changes (slight shifts in business strategy or thinking) can often be every bit as powerful as revolutionary advancements.

- - Scott will present at Insights50, a forum for executives who lead corporate research, insights and/or analytics departments, May 2 in New York. - -

All too often, at the pace today’s market moves, and scale on which market research companies operate, we often forget – all it frequently takes to get ahead is just a minor shift in tactics or perspective. For example:

When L&T General Insurance – a full-service health, property, and casualty insurance provider – wanted to find a way to serve the hugely-diverse and hugely-scattered Indian market? Instead of applying a Western business model and attempting to install branches in every remote town and village and hoping customers would come to it, the company took a contrarian approach. Rather than leverage traditional market strategies, it flipped them on their heads, equipping insurance agents with smartphones and tablets on which a suite of online, cloud-based apps capable of issuing policies and processing claims on the spot was preinstalled, so that agents could go to customers instead.

When medical device leader Medtronic wanted to expand its already successful business throughout Western Europe and beyond? It didn’t double-down on cutting-edge devices. It reinvented its business model instead, expanding its offerings to include services, and establishing new business units that partnered to put owned-and-operated labs inside hospitals.

Not only has Medtronic increased its business and provided partners with significant improvements in customer service and cost-savings by doing so. Having earned their trust, it’s also built a sizable business around ancillary services such as supply chain management and performance benchmarking.

When French telecom giant Orange wanted to double the size of its innovation initiatives, but didn’t want to invest millions in R&D or hordes of high-priced working professionals? It decided to outsource the entire process, and offered APIs - plug-and-play back-end software solutions - both to internal employees and external developers so that they could create new uses for Orange’s technologies. Using just one of these solutions, the company has been able to seamlessly integrate social and second-screen experiences from hundreds of film and TV companies into many of its services in under a year.

When Newell Rubbermaid’s Contigo brand wanted to find a way to differentiate its products in the hugely-crowded and -contested market for portable containers and cups? It didn’t invest a fortune into dozens of abortive product roll-outs, attempting to guess what working professionals on the go would want. It simply studied today’s busiest travel sites, where commuters tended to congregate and – after discovering that passengers were constantly wiping off their mugs’ mouth guards on napkins, sleeves, and handkerchiefs – it introduced a new line of travel mugs with special covers designed to keep out dirt.

And when MasterCard needed a new idea for a mobile payment app? It simply put the call out to employees at Innovation Express, a global series of hackathon events where businesspeople, designers, and software developers team up to create new business plans and products in record time. Two days later, Qkr – which can let you order food from your seat at a stadium, or preorder school lunches for children right from your pocket without ever setting foot in a cafeteria – was born.

While it’s not always obvious to the casual observer, innovation is far easier than you think. All it takes to successfully outmaneuver the competition, or overcome a problem, is simply a greater sense of perspective, and greater willingness to be more creative with how you apply the tools at-hand.

In fact, as we discovered researching our new book Make Change Work for You, it may surprise many business leaders to learn that many minor shifts in positioning, branding, and business strategy can provide significant windfalls. So if you’re determined to embrace innovation, you’re your organization isn’t ready to think big yet, here’s the good news: You can still win by helping it start to think on a smaller scale.

For example, national drugstore chain Walgreens faced a challenging market. After a public dispute with a prescription partner, tightened consumer spending, and growing competition caused prescription counts to fall, the company didn’t bump up ad spending. Instead, it reinvented its approach to customer care.

      Strategies included:

  • Bringing pharmacists out from behind the counter to provide more clinical and counseling services
  • Building an online “Find a Pharmacist” tool to match customer needs with pharmacist expertise, clinical backgrounds and native languages
  • Creating a Pill Reminder mobile app with prescription refill and transfer abilities
  • Building API middleware tools that let third-party developers create new ways to let patients order refills at its 8000+ pharmacies

As you can see, the simple use of cost-affordable high-tech solutions allowed Walgreens to successfully greet business setbacks. But many low-tech solutions can also help you do the same as well. On the flip side, consider the case of Target, among today’s most colossal retail chains.

When the company wanted to increase revenues? It didn’t open more giant strip mall outlets. It launched pint-sized store prototypes in major cities nationwide.

These locations don’t just feature products in smaller sizes (imagine a four-pack of toilet paper – who doesn’t love the fun size?). They also equip salespeople with mobile scanners so fast-moving urban shoppers can enjoy storewide checkouts, and – like many bookstores – do a great deal of business selling locally-branded merchandise. This concept, designed to leverage the brand’s cachet in new and novel ways, hasn’t just provided significant gains. It’s been so successful that Target’s nearly doubled the number of these stores in just one year.

Again, innovation is easier than you think. And no matter the size of your company or research department, you can absolutely, positively put the same strategic principles that today’s most successful change management practitioners leverage to work at every level.

Learn more from Scott at Insights50, May 2 in New York.

Award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and the bestselling author of Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty; The Business Etiquette Bible; and Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap. The founder of travel + hospitality trends magazine SELECT: Your City’s Secrets Unlocked™, and host of Next Up on NewsWatch, his website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.