Outlook 2012 “Innovation” Outtakes

Depending on whether you are a “back to front” or a “front to back” magazine reader, you are either a bit weary of our issue theme or I’m about to pique your curiosity. Either way, we invested a lot of this issue on the idea that these good times for the agriculture economy are the best time for you to take yourself out of the prosperity comfort zone and look for ways to innovate.

While a lot of ideas made the issue, there’s not room for them all. You’ll find additional coverage on CropLife.com as well as in future issues, because it’s a topic that’s critical for any ag business that’s interested in long term sustainability.

I’m going to use this space to share a few other thoughts on the topic. Dr. Dave Downey of Purdue University has been a friend of mine for as long as I’ve been working on this publication. And for at least that many years he has preached the need for retailers to look forward and innovate.

One of the exercises he advocates in the opening story of the issue is “scenario planning,” which he says is growing in popularity. The idea is to try to imagine how specific areas of your business could play out in a negative way, and to think about ways to innovate the business to deal with the scenarios.

I’m no business genius, but back in my time as associate director of the Cleveland Home and Flower Show we used to have something similar that we called “Pre Mortem” meetings. Similar but with a more immediate time frame to work with, we would use the Pre Mortem meeting, which could take the better part of a day, to go through the show event by event and feature by feature and imagine how every aspect of it could play out for the public once the show opened. It was an outstanding exercise and saved us a lot of heartache and showsite expenses.

Of course, you can’t feel bad if you don’t think of everything. One of our features, a model home giveaway, involved contestants receiving keys and trying them in the door one at a time, until one of the keys opened the house.

At the show we were reviewing everything just prior to the contest when I looked at the deck that people would be standing on to try their key. the deck was built with 1/2 inch spacing between the boards, just big enough for a dropped key to fall through and disappear. I quickly found the show decorator and ordered up some carpet.

Could have been a disaster, but finding the little issues along the way is a lot easier when you’ve gotten a handle on the big things.

In preparation for interviewing folks for the cover stories, I talked to futurist Jack Uldrich, who spoke at the InfoAg Conference last July. One of the analogies he likes to make is that of the Thanksgiving turkey.

Right up to Thanksgiving day, the turkey spends his whole life getting fed and cared for. With all of his needs met, he doesn’t have a care in the world. Then one morning, whack! He’s gone. Were there warning signs that could have signaled that a barborous end was near? Could he have pieced together clues as to what was coming if he’d looked ahead to the future? Or were the good times simply too good?

You have the time and resources to seriously consider the sustainability of your business now. Use them wisely!

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