I was reading an interview in Fortune Magazine the other day about Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix (5/23/07). Toward the beginning of the interview, Reed made the following comment about innovation, "With Netflix, one epiphany was that DVDs by mail could work, and the second was our subscription model with no late fees and a flat fee per month." That’s it. That was the great innovation of Netflix.
Now, think about that. An eight year old, $1.5 billion dollar company, came into existence because someone found a solution to a set of common problems. And what were those common problems? Having to get in your car, drive to the video store, browse through their collection, rethink your choice of video selection because the one you wanted wasn’t in, pick your selection, wait in a long line, pay a fair amount of money if you rented multiple videos (at $3.99 per video or game, plus tax) and then have to return that movie in either a two or seven day window (or else pay a fine).
Now, my guess is that all of us were aware of those problems. However, even though we were all staring at the same problems, none of us acted on them. And because we didn’t do anything about them, someone else did–and created something pretty remarkable (plus they ended up making a whole lot of money at it). In retrospect it seems so obvious. But at the time, it was incredibly innovative (and remarkable–in fact, the first time I heard about Netflix was from a friend, years ago, who said to me, "Bruce, you’ve got to check out this Netflix thing. I love not having to go to Blockbuster any more. Plus I don’t have to return my movies in two days if I haven’t watched them yet.")
So as you look at your world and your work, what problems are staring you in the face? What problems are so obvious that no one seems to want to mention them (or deal with them)? What really annoys you? What do you dislike having to put up with? Focus on that problem and keep working at it until you find a solution. And don’t be surprised if the solution you find seems obvious, as well. For example, salad spritzers seem so obvious now, but they weren’t just a year ago. So, keep on plugging away at solving the problems that seem so obvious. In the end, you’ll undoubtedly become pretty remarkable! And who knows, maybe you’ll even come up with your own $1.5 million idea!