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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Innovation Takes Perspiration

But the aspect of Oishi that caught the attention of Nico’s staff was its customer-centric strategy. The company’s executives and staff are directed to pay attention to customer conversations, as well as requests, commentary, and suggestions. They also conduct internal studies and visits by mystery shoppers. Such perspiring led Oishi to boost its revenue by offering customers a greater variety of options at its buffets and to successfully market the restaurant’s green tea for home use. Nico’s team, in turn, drew valuable insights from Oishi’s success. They hung out at Oishi buffets, observed beverage choices, and listened to what customers had to say about their drinks. Based on what they heard and saw, Nico’s team decided to reposition a line of sports drinks to focus on its health benefits — with excellent results.

For the Oishi Group and for Nico’s team, who learned from Oishi’s example, innovation came through careful and systematic observation of customer needs and reactions. It came through trial and error and through a willingness to thoroughly explore a wide variety of possibilities. In short, it came through a lot of perspiration that ultimately made inspiration “no sweat.”

Author Profile:

Karen Otazo ( is an author and management consultant concentrating on Fortune 50 executive clients. This article is adapted from The Truth About Being a Leader…and Nothing But the Truth (FT Pearsons/Prentice Hall, 2006).
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  1. “How Companies Turn Customers’ Big Ideas into Innovations,” strategy+business/ Knowledge@Wharton, January 12, 2005: The most effective product development and commercialization processes encourage dynamic communication and idea sharing among engineers, marketers, and customers. Click here.
  2. Barry Jaruzelski, Kevin Dehoff, and Rakesh Bordia, “Smart Spenders: The Global Innovation 1000,” s+b, Winter 2006: Booz Allen Hamilton’s annual study of the world’s 1,000 largest corporate R&D budgets uncovers a small group of high-leverage innovators who outperform their industries. Click here.
  3. Alexander Kandybin and Martin Kihn, “The Innovator’s Prescription: Raising Your Return on Innovation Investment,” s+b, Summer 2004: Each company has an intrinsic innovation effectiveness curve. Here are three ways to lift it. Click here.
  4. The Oishi Group Web site: Innovative operator of Japanese buffet restaurants. Click here.
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