Innovationmania obsesses over the next new thing—products, services, business models and processes—not people. But people are where ingenious, market creating, top-line growing, bottom-line shrinking, daunting-challenge overcoming solutions come from.
When Yvon Chouinard directed his team at Patagonia to eliminate the plastic their underwear was sold in, he didn’t ask for packaging innovations. He didn’t need to. His seemingly impossible challenge required them to rethink their assumptions about how customers bought underwear, how customers used it, and how they discovered it in stores.
As a result, Patagonia didn’t invent a new packaging material—which would have meant significant research, development, and production costs for the business. Instead, Chouinard’s team came up with a practical answer that eliminated 12 tons of landfill choking materials, drove costs down by hundreds of thousands of dollars—and raised underwear sales at Patagonia by 30%. What was their ingenious solution? The rubber band.
This solution not only resonated with Patagonia’s deep environmental roots, but also gave customers the chance to handle the underwear and discover its quality.
What does Chouinard get that other CEOs don’t? He believes that with every paycheck, he is renting his people’s ingenuity. So he’s built a company where he not only encourages every employee to come up with ingenious solutions—he expects them to. In return, he benefits from everyone’s ability to solve business and environmental challenges with what’s at hand—in clever, new, and useful ways.