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Freiberg: Failure to innovate can prove fatal

Dave RobertsDave Roberts, left, Comfort Solutions, welcomes keynote speaker Kevin Freiberg to the Bedding Conference.
AVENTURA, Fla. - Business analyst Kevin Freiberg kicked off Furniture/Today's seventh Bedding Conference with a challenge to attendees to lead through innovation. Failure to do so, he warned, could be fatal for their businesses. Remember Kodak?
     Drawing on numerous examples from other industries, Freiberg, a best-selling author, told how courageous leaders have brought major changes in the world of business. His well received keynote address was sponsored by Top 10 bedding producer Comfort Solutions.
     Freiberg said his listeners should embrace change.
     "You are going to change in the next 24 months," he said. "The question is, will those changes be opportunity-led or crisis-driven?"
     When companies resist change they become like Kodak, which was once one of the most innovative companies of its day but is now bankrupt, Freiberg said. Kodak didn't change with the times, missing out on the shift to digital film and digital cameras.
     "Kodak thought they were invulnerable," he said. "They stopped being hungry for change. How many of you are operating today like you are bulletproof?"
     He said Kodak passed up on innovative cameras and copying devices because they didn't fit the company's rigid, film-based business model.
     Freiberg used that example to challenge the mattress industry to change. He said the mattress shopping experience is not a fun one: Consumers lie down in stores with a lack of privacy, look at fluorescent lights above and rest on pillows used by numerous consumers before them. He is "overwhelmed" when he visits mattress stores, he admitted.
     He urged his listeners to "question the unquestionable - those deeply held assumptions." He said great innovators challenge the status quo, citing Ted Turner, Ikea, Mary Kay, Southwest Airlines and Tata Motors (the India-based developer of a $2,500 car) as leaders and companies that forged dynamic new business models that bucked conventional wisdom.
     What if, he asked, mattress stores instead became centers for wellness? What if retailers stopped selling mattresses and instead sold better health? What if retail bedding sales associates were more in touch with the female consumers who make most purchase decisions? What if mattress stores had a "genius bar" for better sleep? What if mattress retailers offered kid-friendly environments where parents could give sales associates their undivided attention?
     Freiberg said that many answers for questions like those will come from outside the industry. He challenged his listeners to have the "guts" and to find the time to bring fresh thinking to their businesses.
     "Shake it up," he advised. "Be a player."
     He also challenged the attendees to take the lessons of the Bedding Conference home with them.
     "Will you go back to business as usual?" he asked. "You choose to let it be business as usual. How much change have you effected? This is not the time to pull down the shade of denial."
     For more than 20 years, Freiberg has been profiling business leaders in some of the world's most innovative companies. He has turned those profiles into roadmaps that help clients create their own strategies for growth.
     His books include: "Nanovation: How a Little Car Can Teach the World to Think Big and Act Bold," "Boom! 7 Choices for Blowing the Doors Off Business-As-Usual!," "Guts! Companies That Blow the Doors Off Business-As-Usual," and "Nuts! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success."
     Named one of the Top 30 Best Minds on Leadership by Leadership Excellence Magazine, Freiberg is considered one of the most influential voices on the speaking circuit today. He has appeared on CNBC, "CBS Sunday Morning" and the "CBS Morning News," sharing his views on the links between leadership, corporate culture, innovation, and customer loyalty. And he is widely quoted in the business press.

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