Practical Innovation is an idea factory, a one-off organization based in Israel that comes up with one-off ways for businesses with a sense of adventure to expand their operations.
And in a world where the term “game changer” is routinely used to hype even the most modest improvement to a product, Practical Innovation is, quite literally, changing games.
The company was approached by the Israeli makers of Rummikub, one of the world’s best-selling board games, to help increase their sales.
Rummikub was invented by toothbrush salesman Ephraim Hertzano. He introduced numbered tiles after the communist government in Romania outlawed card games. The game had remained virtually unchanged since he emigrated to Israel and launched it in 1949.
Practical Innovation took a long, hard look at it and, despite the makers’ initial reluctance, they re-wrote the rules to includes extra jokers, making it a faster game, and increasing sales.
That’s just one example of how the company has become a literal game changer.
In the decade since it was founded, Practical Innovation has launched over 80 new products across a whole range of manufacturing industries, in plastics, construction, waste, print, automotive, medical, retail, textile, service, municipalities, steel, energy, food, cosmetics and beyond.
Here are just a few:
• It came up with an entirely new range of products for the automotive filter company A.L. Filter Group – the Zence filter that releases essential oils into the car to suit the mood of the driver and their passengers.
• It was approached by a municipality in Israel to find a new use for the branches it cut from all its trees. Practical Innovation developed a way to turn them into sound-insulating walls.
• Caniel, an Israeli canning company wanted a breakthrough to increase sales. Practical Innovation invented, on its behalf, the world’s first spurt-free tuna can, which allows users to gently the base of the tin to neatly drain the oil.
• A company that disposes of tonnes of waste bread decided there must be a better, and more profitable, solution than turning it into animal feed. Practical Innovation found a way to turn it into a recyclable version of Play-Doh.
• One of the world’s largest producers of cellulose for the paper industry wanted to do something useful with the industrial waste products from the tens of millions trees it felled every year. Practical Innovation invented a process to turn it into bio-compostable plastic.
• Practical Innovation invented the world’s first wireless outdoor air conditioner, with cryogenic technology – the use of liquid nitrogen as a coolant.
• Practical Innovation invented the all-new tortilla – gluten-free, low in carbohydrates, high in protein and made from sprouted orange lentils.
• A leading olive oil manufacturer wanted a worthwhile use for the nearly 5,000 tons of skins, pits and leaves it produced every year. Practical Innovation developed the world’s first flour made from olives.
Businesses approach Practical Innovation because they’re seeking a profitable way to stand out from their competitors.
They need fresh eyes to add a surprise ingredient into the mix and redefine what they do.
“The fact that they are very, very good in their fields is their weakness,” Tal Leizer, the company’s CEO.
“They’re used to thinking the same way about their category. They know they need to re-invent themselves, but they don’t know how.
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“We work across a lot of categories. So we can mix and match. We work with a lot of experts, who have a lot of knowledge. We can pick and mix.”
Clients seek its help because they sense they should be on a different trajectory, but they don’t know what it is.
Leizer and her team gather info on a new client, tour their factory and interview key people.
They then spend the next three months brainstorming, researching, seeking input from their pool of 400 experts in a whole range of disciplines.
And they create a new product that, as the company’s name suggests, is practical and innovative. And profitable.
What comes next is the big reveal. The client doesn’t know what to expect, just that they’ve been promised a great idea.
They sit down to an “oven-ready” proof-of-concept proposal, ready to be tried and tested in their factory, and ready to be patented for their protection.
It’s typically a moment of high excitement – a game-changer for the company – but also one of apprehension, says Leizer.
“We start every presentation by saying that we all live in the comfort zone,” she says. “When we think about the innovation zone we all think about new opportunities, the big world that is waiting for us.
“But I tell them this is not how you’re going to feel in this presentation. The innovation zone is uncomfortable. It’s not pleasant, your stomach aches, you ask yourself if it’s possible or not and you have a lot of doubts. It’s really not a very pleasant place to be.
“It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be challenging, we are going to get frustrated, but we have to work through it and we have to be strong.”
She and her team of 10, based in Shefayim in central Israel, pride themselves on finding solutions for companies in what they call the real-tech world – making the things rather than software that people need for their day-to-day lives.
Leizer is adamant that she and her team can find a solution for any business – from a small family firm to a huge multinational.
“Our job is to be the game changer. That’s why companies approach us. We look for the growth engines that will bring new sales and new profitability. Traditional industry always deals with low profitability.”
There’s often inertia in industry. Factories have production lines churning out whatever they churn out, and even if profits are falling, there’s an urge to carry on, because stopping to change direction is risky.
Not every CEO is prepared to invest in the service she offers, and to venture beyond their comfort zone.
“There are those who don’t want to take the risk,” she says. “I know what I’m doing, they say. OK, It’s not very profitable, but it’s safe.
“And then there are CEOs who say we have to change, we have to do something different.
“People ask me what sort of companies are right for this process. And I always say, it’s not the company, it’s the person. I can sometimes tell in the first 10 minutes of a meeting if this is the right person.”