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Look Up and Down for Innovation!

| On 16, Mar 2010

Jack Hipple

There is a fundamental law of product and business innovation that says that systems integrate into their super-systems over time. What does this mean? Let’s take an example. You are in the business of making paint roller pans. You have worked hard over the years to add stability to these simple devices so that they don’t tip over on ladders, added coatings to minimize sticking, and even made disposable ones in the hopes that people will buy your paint pans. You may have even gotten together with a paint roller supplier in a joint promotion at a local hardware store. Then you go down to your local Home Depot, Lowes, or Menards and see the Black and Decker Paint Stick(R)requiring no paint pan. Your product has been replaced by the void in a hollow stick, normally thought of as only a means for reaching places too tall for the painter. Being replaced by a void must really hurt an ego!


This is only one example. Here are some others to trigger your thoughts:



  1. The elimination of labels on men,s, underwear shirts (don’t know about women’s!) eliminating the need for sewn labels and the materials used in making them. The shirt is the label.

  2. The elimination of bank deposit slips through optical scanning of checks, eliminating the paper, all the chemical used in producing paper from pulp, and the printing inks used in making them. The check is the deposit slip.

  3. The incorporation of toothpaste into the handle of a toothbrush, eliminating the need for the toothpaste tube and all the metal used in making it. The toothbrush is the toothpaste tube.

  4. The incorporation of a toothbrush head into the end of a flosser, eliminating the need for a normal toothbrush and all the plastics used in making it. The flosser is the toothbrush.

  5. The incorporation of a punch out spoon in the lid of a yogurt container, eliminating the need for a separate spoon and the plastics or metal used to make it. The lid is the spoon.

  6. The use of the Internet for newspaper publication, eliminating the need for millions of pounds of paper used for printing, and once again, all the chemicals and machinery used in making the paper. The Internet is the newspaper

  7. The incorporation of multi-functionality in office machines, eliminating the need for tons of plastic and metal used in manufacturing these separate devices. The fax machine is the copier

  8. The incorporation of multi-functionality into home lawn products, eliminating the need for the plastic and paper materials previously used in making these extra product containers. We have also seen the incorporation of a lawn care business under the umbrella of the services of a termite service provider, eliminating the need for two separate business structures and their associated costs. We now have a “home service” provider. The termite provider is the lawn care provider.

  9. The selling of duty free products on overseas flights, eliminating the need for a “duty free” store on the ground and all the costs and jobs associated with building and running it. The stewards and stewardesses are the duty free shop.

  10. The integration of a tire structure into a wheel by Michelin, eliminating the all the rubber, additives,and the jobs used in the production of conventional tires. The wheel is the tire.

What’s the point here? There are two very fundamental ones.



  1. First, if you are providing a service or product to someone, rest assured that no matter how much they like you and your product, someone in that company or organization is trying to figure out how to get the function you provide without you. No offense intended, but there’s a lot of money to be saved and possibly the invention of a new product or business that will delight their customers. Look at your product or service and and how or why it is used by your customer and ask how could its function (not what it is) be provided within your customer’s product or business. Then help make that happen and patent the concept to allow for at least some royalty payments when your product is not needed any more. Or maybe buy your customer and implement the idea!

  2. Secondly, if you’re the buyer of something, start figuring out how to get the function provided by what you purchase without buying it–preferably by incorporating that function into what you already sell. This will most likely delight your customer and give you some patent rights that could be very valuable.