Innovation Through Intellectual Curiosity

David Gordon



By David Gordon

Much is talked about “innovation.” It’s a term that is loosely tossed around and requires a commitment, or perhaps a better term is “mentality,” that is infused into individuals and a culture. It’s a desire to “excel” and, perhaps more importantly, to bring idea generation to challenges and a willingness to “do differently.” To be “innovative” infers that a company’s management (leadership) is leading and has enough “intellectual curiosity” to engender learning and exploration of new ideas. To accomplish this the leadership team, as well as others in the organization, need to be exposed to alternative thought processes.

One of these venues is external education.

Recently Graybar and NEMRA announced initiatives designed to differentiate their organizations (and in the case of NEMRA, their members) and infuse their culture with a more innovative, forward thinking viewpoint.

Graybar announced its Innovation Lab with the University of Illinois to focus on digital capabilities that will “strengthen its capabilities in the supply chain.” Other companies that have aligned with the University of Illinois’ Research Park are Abbott, ADM, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Caterpillar, Capital One, CME Group, John Deere, State Farm, and Yahoo.

So, this gives Graybar

  • access to research
  • access to future talent
  • a potential conduit for exploration. Consider IoT, IIoT, digital marketing, e-replenishment systems upchannel and down channel, employee and customer electronic interaction, new communication and inventory management technologies, advanced utilization of SAP, smart grid advancements, and who knows what else.

The key is access… to people, thought leaders (and thought provokers), and idea sharing.

Over the past couple of years NEMRA has offered its members an opportunity to immerse themselves in a unique business workshop dubbed the NEMRA Executive Development Program. The first two workshops were conducted at, and by, the Wharton School of Management at UPenn. Feedback from attendees was that the sessions were very thought provoking. And this was a significant financial and time investment for these manufacturer rep principals.

For its third year, NEMRA is partnering with the Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University). This year’s program will focus exclusively on the sales and marketing disciplines. Key areas of focus include:

  • the strategic mindset of successful selling
  • winning value propositions in business markets
  • (multi-channel) go-to-market strategy for advantage
  • influence without authority
  • communicating with impact at a moment’s notice
  • reflection and challenge working groups

Additionally, manufacturers are invited to participate in this executive development initiative. It is interesting that manufacturer sales management is extending this opportunity as the manufacturing community does not have an organization devoted to supporting the commercial / sales / networking needs of manufacturers. NEMA is focused instead on product-oriented standards. With NEMRA members representing 80% of industry manufacturers and 60% of industry sales (and growing), facilitating sales innovation can be beneficial for all.

Reps who participate in this type of workshop are essentially telling their staff, their manufacturers and their distributors that they are investing in the future.

While size (volume) does help in making some of these investments, the first step is commitment to doing “something” and doing it on a repeatable basis. “Concepts du jour” confuse organizations but a commitment to intellectual curiosity can differentiate an organization, conceive ideas, and identify opportunities to better serve internal and external customers, increase sales, improve productivity, reduce costs, and optimize profitability.

To engage in a conversation about how intellectual curiosity and innovation processes can be integrated into your organization, give us a call.

And if you have examples of innovative approaches within your company or that you have observed, please share.

David Gordon is President of Channel Marketing Group. Channel Marketing Group develops market share and growth strategies for manufacturers and distributors and develops market research. CMG’s specialty is the electrical industry. He also authors an electrical industry blog, He can be reached at 919-488-8635 or

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