Innovation vs. Improvement.

Innovation vs. Improvement.

When Brian Carroll was laid off unexpectedly from his sales position at a car dealership in Michigan, he received a call from a past customer wanting a car. 

Carroll told the buyer he no longer worked at the dealership, but the customer didn’t care. “He hired me to find the exact car he wanted and to negotiate with different dealers to get the best price.” Carroll then drives the new car to wherever the customer wants it delivered.

The car concierge. Brilliant.

This is not new, even though most sales people on the showroom floor have never considered it as an option to break free from working for someone else. 

I created this option for myself by working with the same salesman for many years in a large network that sells nearly every brand under the sun. I haven’t gone through the normal motions of buying a car for over a decade.

Carroll says he now sells 30-35 cars a month, doing better than he did at his old job. And, I’d wager, he has more freedom and flexibility in being his own boss. If he’s smart and enterprising, he’ll recruit another handful of sales professionals to expand the business in other markets, franchise out his tools and systems or both.

This isn’t as innovative as Tesla ditching the entire inventory channel and car lot model used by every other car brand, but it is a very smart improvement.

In business, there is an ever-present temptation to innovate. We want to create something new, exciting and sexy. And yet, there really isn’t anything new under the sun. Jobs and Apple didn’t invent the telephone, but they did improve it significantly and sky-rocketed to become the world’s first trillion-dollar firm as a result.

In orthodontics, my specialty, we’re all racing to deliver in-office aligners through 3D scanning and printing. Yes, it’s cool, but if I pick up the phone at lunchtime today, call your office and your team doesn’t answer, should you really spend more time, energy and money innovating, or should you simply improve your existing processes?

I know the answer but it’s not the sexy, exciting, shiny-new-object answer that most business owners want to hear. 

Sigh. It’s very easy to make business owners rich but very difficult to get them actually to do the simple, boring things required to quickly double or triple revenue.

Write this down: given the choice between innovating and improving, take improvement ten times over.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.