Last updated: Innovators can take a page from small business

Innovators can take a page from small business


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Brands looking for a way to increase innovation can take a page from the small-business playbook.

So says Andy Mills, president of Medline Industries, a maker and distributor of health-care products in Michigan. Mills talks about how his company’s successful approach to innovation comes from a legacy of “wearing many hats,” in an interview for a fascinating series for The New York Times called “Corner Office.”

Times reporter Adam Bryant talks to top executives around the nation about the challenges of management and leadership.

Mills says his company was founded by just a handful of people who were forced to think about their business in a holistic way simply because there were so few of them running it. Having this hands-on approach can be challenging, but it also gives managers and CEOs a 360-degree view of their company that might otherwise escape them in a more multilayered organization.

E-commerce success—indeed, omnichannel success—has strong roots in innovation. Look at Skype as an example: Who would have thought we’d be communicating by video over our laptops, for free, no less? Imaging the future and making it reality is, of course, the purest form of innovation.

But lacking a true visionary, how can brands continue on a path of creativity when it comes to meeting business challenges? Mills’ company turns to its greatest asset: The sales team.

Each month, a small selection of Medline’s sales team meets with top brass to discuss which products should be marketed most aggressively. Losers in the monthly review are sent back to the drawing board, creating not only a competitive environment among product lines, but also triggering (and placing heavy value on) problem-solvers who use innovation to get their products back on the front lines.

With an e-commerce market that is exploding, both customer-facing and business-to-business, innovation is absolutely necessary. As Mills says, it’s nothing short of Darwinian.

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