Innovation from All Angles

There are so many different ways to be innovative. I recently attended a conference on Sustainability at the Yale Center for Customer Insights and heard Gary Hirshberg, Chairman and former CEO of Stonyfield Farm, speak. During his talk, I noticed that they have been able to innovate in multiple ways that contribute to their success.

First, they came up with an innovative way to stay in business so they could keep doing what mattered to them.

Originally, Stonyfield was more about soil cycling and education about organics. Then they lost their government funding, and had to come up with a way to keep doing what they wanted to do. They had this organic yogurt that they started selling, and it took off, enabling them to stay on track.

Second, they took a risk.

They started selling organic yogurt when no one was eating yogurt and no one knew what organic was. Hirshberg shared, “We had no supply and no demand.” Think about that for a minute. No supply and no demand—and they did it anyway! I’ve never heard a quote quite like that. They must have had a powerful vision, passion and mission, and just decided to go for it. Had they not taken the risk, they would not have had the chance to capitalize on upcoming trends and lead the marketplace in the organic yogurt category 

Third, they followed their values and used those values as a springboard to come up with an innovative operational practice. 

New Hampshire-based Stonyfield realized that when cleaning the production tanks, they were sending sludge to Vermont. That was inconsistent with their core values. Instead of just letting it go, they invested time and money to figure out a way to turn cleaning the tanks into energy production. Over time, this not only helped the environment—and Vermont—but also their own bottom line. 

I really admire their ability to take risks and break assumptions, while running a profitable business and sticking to their core values. The Stonyfield Farm story is a great example for companies who sometimes struggle to find even a single way to innovate. 

Ways you can do the same thing:

  • Practice Assumption Busting. What are the assumptions you have about the way you do business?  Choose a few and break them: What if that assumption was not true?  Where does that lead you?
  • Look at innovation, not just in terms of what innovative products and services you can come up with, but also in terms of how you deliver them.  Consider all aspects from personnel to supply chain to how you reach your customers.
  • Understand what your core values are and check them against company actions and policy to make sure that you are sticking to them. If you are swaying, and if they are truly important, then invest the time to figure out a solution.  You can use Forness® thinking as one tool to problem solve.  What are you “for” in the way you are doing business and what do you ”wish for” to stick to your values?  How might you change practices to stick closer to your values?

With all these and so many more ways to innovate, there are opportunities out there for every company—if only we look around to find them. 


©2014 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Beth Storz

Beth Storz is President and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go. She co-authored the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward." Beth has been a guest on many innovation podcasts and her work has been featured in media outlets such as HuffPost and Fortune. Beth holds a BS in Business Management from Cornell University and a MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and has worked in brand management at some of the premier consumer packaged goods companies—including Unilever, Kraft and Nabisco. Since joining Ideas To Go, Beth has established herself as a leader in the Innovation landscape and designed and facilitated projects for hundreds of companies—from CPG to financial services to pharmaceuticals.