Confluence

The first time I heard the word “confluence” was during a televised NFL game in Pittsburgh. The broadcaster Al Michaels remarked that the junction where the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers combined to form the Ohio River was known as a “confluence”. I came across this word again the other day, and the visualization of those rivers drew out a deeper understanding. Just as the rivers joined together to form something new, so should we be striving to do the same in business.

What does it mean to innovate? It’s not just to create something new, but to create something unique that makes a difference. Something that is remarkable. In the end that is what adding value is all about – finding ways to stay ahead of the competition by having a product that people want to talk about.

Inc.com had a article recently about Jerry Murrell, the creator of Five Guys Burgers and Fries. In 2002 Jerry decided to franchise his business, and now 8 years later there are over 570 franchises located across the US & Canada, with $483m in sales last year. How did the company grow so fast? It stuck to what it knew. They dont sell fish sandwiches or chicken – they specialize in burgers, and you bet they do it damn well.

Jerry’s confluence was mixing high quality ingredients with a culture that creates workers that care, resulting in a product that has people talking. Think un-empowered workers don’t make a difference? Talk to my friend who spent 10 minutes at a sandwich shop trying to explain to the employee that he wanted both sausage and meatballs on his sub. That employee was stuck in process and couldn’t make a decision on his own, and now they lost a customer (and maybe more).

Can Jerry’s idea be copied? Sure – it’s a soft innovation and the blueprint can easily be followed and possibly even done better, but the point is that Jerry thought of it and followed through. Innovation can take many forms. Small changes can be even more effective than large, costly ones. Make a difference – how can you create your own confluence?

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