Innovation is simplicity

I’ve made the case many times that “innovation” can come in multiple forms. In fact, it’s often the seemingly minor things that capture our attention more than massive overhauls. Sure, the launch of the iPhone was amazing, no question about it. But you know what else is amazing? The built-in support for Exchange email servers that’s coming in the new Mac OS, Snow Leopard. I love Apple’s Mail program, but without proper Exchange support, I’ve been unable to use it, forced to switch to the horrendous Microsoft Entourage.

Think about auto-billing, that oh so helpful ability to plug your credit card into a Web site and automatically have the site charge your card each month, rather than having to remember to write a check and mail it by a certain date each month. When you say the word “innovation”, auto-bill probably isn’t the first thing that pops to mind, yet it’s something that truly changes the world around us.

Here’s another innovative idea; highly innovative yet simple to implement:

Realizing that both existing and potential clients might appreciate a chat about a haircut before visiting their stylist, Plan B Salon in Cambridge, Massachusetts launched a new service offering 15-minute video consultations. Prior to their appointment, customers can get an idea of what their options are or how receptive the stylist is to their requests, without wasting time on a journey to the salon. It also lets clients to weigh various possibilities before going in for a cut.

The consultations are set up over Skype. Customers request a date and time using a form on Plan B’s website, which asks for their Skype call-back name/number. The salon offers appointments all day on Mondays—a smart way to fill up those quieter days—but will book consultations on other days of the week if time is available. The service is free, and clients are charged from USD 50 for a cut, style and finish.

I’d challenge you to look at your own business, listen to your customers and find three “innovative” ideas that solve simple issues. Just because the idea doesn’t get you on the cover of BusinessWeek doesn’t mean it’s not fantastic for your business bottom line.

Actually, maybe it is. Zappos just got bought by Amazon. What’s one of the biggest things Zappos has been known for? Solving the “immediacy” problem of online shopping by offering free overnight shipping and liberal return policies. Maybe small solutions can get you on the cover of BusinessWeek after all!