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What Monkeys Can Teach You About Types of Innovation

Director of IT at HNI

You can find inspiration for your business just about anywhere you look — even in the trunk of a car, and especially if that trunk contains a chimpanzee.

No, really.

I'm talking about "Trunk Monkeys," a fictional auto option offered by a car dealership in Oregon.

Trunk Monkeys get their owners out of all sorts of jams. They deliver babies on the side of the road (click to view). They chase down kids who egg your car (click to view). They even keep your teenage daughter's date on the up and up (watch the video below):



The thing about the Trunk Monkey ads is that they all end with "Another innovative idea you'll only find at Suburban Auto Group" (or some variation of that tagline).

So what can trunk monkeys teach us about innovation? What makes the trunk monkey idea "innovative," exactly? Let's unpack the concept by looking at three types of innovation.

Trunk Monkeys and the 3 Types of Innovation

Product Innovation

In product innovation, you develop unique features and functionality for your product. A feature of trunk monkeys is that they assess a situation and take action quickly. In all the videos, you can see that trunk monkeys aren't designed to hesitate.

When it comes to your business and product innovation, your challenge is to develop an offering whose unique features and quality create a long-term competitive advantage. Product innovation can be creating an entirely new product, or it can be updates and line extensions. Be aware, though, that competitors may chase your innovative product with their own copy.

Process Innovation

In process innovation, you optimize operations and workflows for maximum efficiency. While we don't see it in the commercials, let's assume that Suburban Auto Group has a proprietary training program for its Trunk Monkeys. This training program is essentially an assembly line for building the perfect Trunk Monkey every time, with no superfluous steps or waste.

For your business, process innovation requires a bold step away from "business as usual." It's about a developing a business configuration that gives a competitive advantage in the form of insane productivity or waste reduction. Your competitors can't replicate your "special sauce" when it comes to the perfectly balanced internal structure and network of partner vendors.


In service innovation, you focus on making the product easier to try, use, and enjoy. When you have a trunk monkey, your problems go away at the push of a button. How easy is that? It's about a delightful, satisfying, and consistent experience.

Your business doesn't have to sell a service to innovate in this area. Consider your customers' buying journey for your type of product. How can you answer questions and smooth rough patches as they come to a purchase decision? Organizations that nail service innovation are rewarded with raving fans who come back again and again for a satisfying experience.

Why Your Organization Won't Thrive Without Innovation

types_of_innovationTrunk Monkeys are a silly (and fictional) innovative idea. But ignoring innovation is a real, high-stakes game. Businesses that don't innovate eventually will fail as the environment around them — in the form of technology, competition, and regulations — evolves.

Without innovation, you're taking a passive approach to moving your business forward. Your profit model worked like gangbusters when your company was founded. But time marches on, and, with hope, you've adapted to keep up. It's the difference between letting things happen to you and setting a course — active vs. reactive.

Different types of innovation become the rocket booster that will thrust your organization into the future. Innovation will allow your organization to capture opportunities in your industry, making you stand apart from competition. Challenge your people improve products, processes, and services at every turn — and be prepared to be surprised.

What's more, without innovation, your people will get bored — and your customers, too. The best talent in your industry want brain-teasing innovation challenges at work that give them the opportunity to work across functions and to increase the value of your organization. An organization that's satisfied with the status quo likely will fail to delight customers. They'll leave for greener pastures — with other, more dynamic players in your market space.

When you think about the three types of innovation — process, product, or service — what opportunities do you see for your business? Please share in comments!

Related Posts:

The 4 Types of Innovation

What You Can Learn From the 2013 Most Innovative Companies

Mighty Mouse: 5 Lessons from Disney World That Can Improve Any Business

Why More Employers are Creating a Culture of Transparency

Photo by kleinAlexis via Pixabay

Topics: Construction Transportation Manufacturing