Business Innovation Means Unlikely Pairings

I was reading the newspaper yesterday and I came across two words that just didn't go together. They weren't exactly an oxymoron, just moronic. At least that's what struck me when I first read the phrase "Playboy Radio."

According to the article, one of the satellite radio services is taking the bunny to radio. This challenged everything that I thought I knew about guys -- that we're visual creatures and that we're not the best abstract thinkers. Playboy radio? How will Playboy play without the visual?

OK, I get it that there is a thriving business in adult phone services. So I guess there is some precedent for talking dirty on the radio. But this business summed up to me everything that a real guy would have no interest in. And that got me thinking about other things that I would have never put together -- like Poker TV, men's mousse and "Adult Outlet" (I saw that on a billboard in Las Vegas a few years ago).

They're all unlikely pairings. And the more I thought about it, I realized that pairing seemingly unlikely concepts is one of the real keys to innovation -- the ability to put things together in a new and innovative way.

Meeting the needs of your existing customers is a challenge. You've got to watch and listen and be prepared to shake things up when they aren't being served well enough. But the really tough part is serving needs that your customers don't even know they have -- their unrealized needs.

How do you find someone's needs when they don't even know they have them? It's not easy. You've got to understand their business so well that you can anticipate totally new solutions for today's and tomorrow's problems. For example, how many of you out there ever imagined the Internet or e-mail before you had your first computer? Be honest.

Most of us can't imagine something that is a few steps beyond anything we're currently using. Take hybrid cars or the iPod. Both are relatively small leaps from things that already existed. But I'm guessing that they were a total surprise to most people. Heck, I'll admit, I never saw either of them coming. And now I find both essential.

Sure, there are some innovations that just come out of thin air. But most of them come about in a more pedestrian way -- they come from combining two unlikely things to create something totally new.

So the next time you see an unlikely pairing -- and trust me, you will -- appreciate the leap of faith that someone took to create it. Sure, it might be a bridge to nowhere, but at least the creators asked questions and explored a new direction in which to take things.

It's hoped that the unlikely pairing will motivate you to explore your own unlikely combination -- something that will push you in a new direction. I'd like to continue with this conversation about innovation, but I've got an important radio program that I need to listen to.


"I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." -- Bob Dylan


From "The Boss's Survival Guide" by Rosner, Halcrow and Levins (McGraw Hill, 2001):

"Until the 1980s, employee loyalty meant punching the same time clock from diploma to grave. Whether the boss was a kindly father figure or an antacid-swilling SOB didn't matter. People shrugged it off and kept plugging away until they earned that nifty gold watch. No more! Today's employees have attention spans the length of an MTV video. They don't want your gold watch. They're Swatch employees; watches and jobs are of the moment, not for a lifetime. No wonder the average job tenure is 3.5 years and shrinking. But don't dismiss this Swatch mindset as youthful rebellion and wait for the GenExers to just 'grow up.' The Swatch attitude cuts across all age groups and has nothing to do with being raised by Big Bird."

Blog Ballot Results

Here are the results from a recent Working Wounded Blog/ online ballot:

How do you feel about the next 10 years at work?

   Excited, 19.7 percent

   I stopped feeling at work years ago, 36.8 percent

   Drained, 43.4 percent

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.