The Polka Dot Dress

25 Jul 2005|Added Value

It must be something in the air. Like Terri Ducay, I’ve been looking for change in my life. Unlike Terri, I decided to get it from fashion rather than four wheels. Also unlike Terri’s experience, I can’t find the exact thing I want waiting for me in a showroom. I have to create it myself.

Today, the most fashionable consumers are those capable of experimenting. They can’t just adopt a luxury brand or a new designers’ unique look. The top “fashionistas” are capable of creatively assembling clothes from many sources, both old and new, cheap and expensive and seeing how it works for them. Their fashion reputation is based on their personal decisions about color, texture, design and brand pairing. Those who are good at this have an amazing skill for putting things together in innovative ways; for example, combining a feminine vintage top with a emerging brand of fashion jeans, or their Dad’s 70’s leather coat (made in Siberia) with a pair of striped tube socks and knit scarf from H&M.

At its essence, this is about creating personal meaning through selection and combination of clothing and accessories. It’s fun for me, but what does this have to do with innovation in the marketplace and why would my clients care to read about this?

What I’m learning from this experience is that innovation requires experimentation and risk taking. If you’re trying to safely innovate, I’d suggest you call that “iteration,” or “adding incremental value” or “refreshing our core essence.” If you’re really trying to change and grow, you have to go beyond your comfort zone. I’m not suggesting that a Fortune 500 company being wildly expanding into uncharted territory–to the contrary, I’m suggesting you follow a structured path that we know works (whether your trying to reinvent yourself or your brand):

1. Explore new territory. Look in places you haven’t visited before and take the time to find opportunities that have some familiarity to you, but are distinct from your current habits. For me, this means I’m learning to shop vintage stores, in addition to my regular retail shops. For a client, it might mean exploring the emerging Hispanic consumer market or taking a look at how China is developing, or visiting a small merchant’s shop in India.

2. Experiment. Last week, I caused eyes to roll in the office when I wore a polka dot dress, circa 1930’s, that I found in a vintage shop. While it may have been over the top, and definitely not expected from me, I learned from the experiment. I learned that by changing my appearance, I can feel more vibrant, engaged and better able to connect to others. I also learned that large polka dots can generate a lot of conversation. A client’s equivalent of my polka dot dress might be testing a new navigation scheme for their website, or producing an Hispanic version of their ad campaign, or considering a different approach to working with their suppliers. All of this type of experimentation can be done in small doses, in controlled, relatively safe settings with feedback mechanisms to guide your decisions.

3. Integrate. I might not wear that polka dot dress again, but I’m sure aspects of it will influence many more future purchases. That’s how I will integrate my exploration and experimentation into my self. I’m not looking for a complete make-over, and neither are most of our clients. We’re all looking for a “make-better” that doesn’t erase are current value, but adds just the right amount of change.

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