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June 12, 2015

Is That Innovation Or Just a Good Idea?

by mark mclean

mousetrapThere has been a lot of talk about innovation within the real estate space these days so I thought I would throw in my two cents on the topic. Innovation is all around us, and not just in our industry either. At the core I’m a big fan of innovation. I remember being mesmerized listening to Luke Williams the professor of Innovation at NYU speak on the subject. The first question, of course, is why do we innovate? What makes us decide to build, for example, the metaphoric story of a better mouse trap? Well for some its purely about making money. For others it’s about doing a better and faster job of eliminating mice in your house.

Taking the mouse trap idea full circle, a lot can be said about innovation. We know the common snap trap works well but there are down sides. Sometimes you get a clever mouse who figures out a way to beat the trap, other times it only catches a leg or worse, creates a bloody mess. Still, the trap is fairly effective so people buy it. Then someone comes along and builds a trap that is 100% effective at killing mice, plus there is no mess and no need to bait the trap. You never see the mouse but you know it is dead. But is that innovation? In doing a bit of research on the subject I found an over-riding theme about innovation…it doesn’t become true innovation until the majority of people adopt it. This, in my mind is a powerful message. If we think about the mouse trap again, one could argue that the new mouse trap cuts the spread of disease and reduced allergens in large urban centres and ended up saving billions in health care costs. Whammo. Innovation. But if it doesn’t do that it’s not innovative, it’s simply a good idea.

Another earmark of innovation is that it often trades something we have grown to accept with a new idea that people rush to because it saves time or money or both. It starts off as a small idea and grows. Innovation sets a new standard for how people live and work. Then it becomes the new standard until someone innovates again. Think about it, there are any number of innovations out there that we now take for granted…electricity? Wifi? You get the picture. Innovation is ground breaking, earth shattering and life altering. In the end it requires someone to stick their neck out and risk everything. As it relates to the mouse trap again one also needs to consider the market place. A new trap idea is not going to work in an area with no mice. Neither will the idea fly if its only a small number of people who need traps and they are spread across a continent. The reality is that while they might really want the new mouse trap they won’t pay a massive premium that would be required to ship it to far away destinations.

There is good news though. One by-product of innovation, or at least those who claim they are innovative, is that they provide, indirectly, a benefit to the competition. Using the mouse trap idea again, the person who designs the better mousetrap had some pretty good ideas but the originator of the snap trap sees those ideas and adapts their trap thus being able to change their existing marketing efforts to include the words “new and improved” while still owning the market for traps.

So I encourage innovative thinking and applaud those that think outside the box. There are only four things that come out of an innovative idea. If an idea has merit, it will succeed on its own and become the industry standard. If the idea is sound the competition will tweek the idea to suit their needs and take ownership of it. If the competition thinks it’s a bad idea they will downplay it and call the innovator a fanatic…. at least until the idea works. Or the idea will fail. Either way, innovations or just plain ‘new ideas” are good things that push us to be better.

Think about an idea or innovation in any industry, including real estate. Will it stand alone as the new industry standard? Can you adapt it and make it work for you? Does it frighten you because at the core its existence threaten your business and you would rather fight it than adapt? or is that idea just plain dumb? Two additional points, new ideas and innovations take time to develop and you can hype a product until the cows come home, but hype is not innovation.

mark mclean is the Broker/Manager at the Bosley Real Estate Queen St W office and President-Elect for the Toronto Real Estate Board. The opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of TREB or Bosley RE.

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