Be innovative. Your public eats cheese.

But not just any kind of cheese.

Thousands of people living in my city of Barcelona are following a particular diet that consists of low carbohydrates, low oil, low fat intake, lots of vegetables and high protein content. Just imagine how many folks in this grand metropolis are happily munching on low fat cheese right this minute as you read this article. It is a growing trend that will probably hit very large numbers within the next few years in Europe and North America.

Yet in this same city, there is not one restaurant that I know of that serves even one specially designed meal that these hungry people can easily identify on the menu, sit back, relax and enjoy with the rest of the restaurant-going population. They are left feeling alienated or must break their diet when dining out. For some, this can bring on tinges of guilt, frustration, as well as altered social relations.

Something is not quite right in this picture. 

Meanwhile, at the family-run meat and cheese deli in my neighborhood open market, one of the shop assistants who has an inviting and gregarious personality noticed that many of her customers, male and female, were all of the sudden purchasing cheese and meat with low fat content. She did a little research, connected the dots and began to assume the role as a helping and motivating agent. Now, when she sees that a customer is asking for fromage frais along with slices of turkey breast, for example, she asks with spunky curiosity and a contagious smile, “Are you following that great low-fat, high protein diet that so many people are on now?”

Intrusive question?

No.

Smart woman?

Yes.

She is paying attention to what is going on with her public. She watches, listens, asks and then engages accordingly. Because she knows her products and has done her own research on the specific requirements of this diet trend, she can easily help people make a selection and can suggest the inclusion of different meats and cheeses that some clients might not know about. She also stocks more varieties to cater to this specific public.

What does she get back?

The satisfaction of being helpful to her clients, increased sales for her family business, and a group of faithful, life-long customers who see clearly that their needs are taken into consideration. She also has the pleasure of entering into a special relationship with them that is friendly, familiar and full of lively story telling.

The shop attendant has learned to speak the same language as her customers. A brilliant strategic move.

And guess what? There’s more.

In the process of establishing this kind of engaging interaction she continues to learn about the changing needs of her public. All this small deli sells is meat and cheese, but the strategizing opportunities are many with only one additional ingredient: creative innovation.

Creative innovation is the key ingredient that is capable of moving a project, business, organization and even a society out of a crisis and into a sustainable, healthy life.

You can add as much as you need of this ingredient, without restrictions. There is no risk of toxicity and no expiration date; it’s natural, organic and locally grown.

For large organizations, the creative innovation ingredient might be exploring how to better fit into the world, be relevant to people’s needs and connect with those people, rather than focusing exclusively on growth. And for the small and medium size organization and project, there is especially good news: you have an advantage for increasing your innovation capacity in no time at all because your structure is smaller, involves fewer people and is more flexible than large companies.

Therefore, you can brainstorm constantly for creative ideas within your team and with your clients and put those ideas into practice without much or any re-structuring. You can experiment, try something new, and set up communication flows to listen to your public — listen to their needs, what they value and the reasons they make certain decisions.

Can you afford not to?

I see establishments every day as I pass through the streets of Barcelona that could be doing something different if a gust of creative strategizing wind passed through their open door and scattered the papers and ideas about. I have to stop myself from actually walking in to some of them and simply making a friendly professional suggestion. Often I am stopped by the wisdom of an accompanying friend who knows that he or she is with a strategist-on-the-loose and that some people might not understand my unsolicited input and enthusiasm. Or they might remind me that this is what I do for a living and that spending my days offering consultations on street corners is not a savvy business plan.

But the truth is that I run into examples, quite frequently, of businesses, organizations and projects (both physical and web-based) that are not watching, listening and making decisions anchored in the needs, life realities and values of their public — a public that is in a continuous process of change and evolution.

Life is not static. A brick is static. We shouldn’t confuse the two.

People are in a constant search for solutions to make their lives better, healthier and more balanced. And this is where you come into the picture.

So, to the hundreds of small coffee shops in my city that all offer economical breakfasts advertised on chalkboard marquees outside their door, I say: Good job on paying attention to the economic crisis, but don’t stop there, that’s not enough.

Be the first to innovate: create and offer a simple breakfast that is low in fat and carbohydrates for the jillions of people in this city that eat that way. You will have a crowd outside of your door clamoring to get in.

This is just one example in one sector; the opportunities for all sectors and all projects, large and small, are wide open and waiting to be discovered.

Creative innovation is not expensive, and if you need the help from professionals outside of your project or organization — get it. It’s the best investment you’ll make in this decade.

With that in mind, my message to everyone involved in any kind of project is this: Wake up and smell the tantalizing coffee. Pay attention, get creative and innovate. Solve a problem for somebody.

For us, your customers and clients, it will make our day.

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