Larry’s Two-Step Innovation System

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Larry was phenomenally successful in business, but that didn’t stop his colleagues from laughing at him from time to time. One thing they thought was funny was the way he dressed.

Larry rarely wore “business attire.” He said that he only wore a tie “when it was culturally mandatory.” Most of the time he dressed for comfort. And he always wore brown Birkenstocks.

Then there was his phone technique. He never said, “Hello” or “Good-bye.” He thought they wasted time. When you answered the phone he just started talking. When the conversation was done, he just hung up.

But Larry got things done. He started an office cleaning business that generated lots of cash. He used that cash to invest in real estate and other businesses. He put his cash into “dirty” businesses because, he said, “Nobody wants to do them, but there’s always a market.”

I met him when he acquired an interest in a trash hauling business that was one of my clients. We had a two-minute meeting. He told me: “I’ve read your recommendations. They’re good. Go help us implement them. Give me a status report once a week. Call me if you need something.”

I loved working with Larry because, except for my father-in-law, I’ve never met anyone who could cut through to the heart of an issue so fast and so well. He was also the most unthreatened human being I’ve ever known. You could ask him anything.

Even after we worked together, I’d call Larry from time to time to get his take on an idea. Once I was considering importing a special kind of shrimp from South America. He told me to count the number of government agencies I would have to deal with and call him back.

I counted them all up and realized that any one of the representatives of any one of those agencies could stop my business cold. I called Larry back and told him that I decided not to do the business. “Good choice,” was all he said. He was laughing when he hung up.

A couple of years later I was working on developing an innovation course for a large corporate client. I asked Larry if he had any ideas for an effective innovation strategy. That’s when I learned what I call “Larry’s Two-Step Innovation System.” The basic principle is that you should do something with your idea right away.

Step One: Try to explain your idea to a teenager. If they don’t get it, it’s a lousy idea. Go no farther.

Step Two: Figure out a way to try it out. It will either work or not.

Bottom Line

Want to be successful? Be willing to get your hands dirty. Keep it simple. And cultivate a bias for action.

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