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Survival Skills

A toast to gutsy moves and forward thinking by entrepreneurs across all fields

If you’re looking for a hotbed of invention, skip Silicon Valley and head straight to your local craft brewery

Mega-breweries have long dominated the U.S. beer market by playing a numbers game. A single Anheuser-Busch plant in Florida produces about 10 million cases of beer a month. How are the little guys supposed to compete?

The answer is: They’re not. Instead, America’s craft breweries are living up to their name, employing a combination of guile, imagination and good taste to produce beers that are as accomplished as any on the planet. In 15 years, outfits like Big Sky and Flying Dog have come up with an envelope-pushing style of brewing that has reinvented and reinvigorated the industry.

And they ‘re reaping the rewards. While the overall beer market in America remains soft, the independents are booming: Production of craft beers rose by 12 percent in the first eight months of 2012 alone, to 6 million barrels; they account for 6 percent of the U.S. market and are growing swiftly.

These smaller breweries have been so successful, the giants have started to emulate them (Blue Moon, from MillerCoors, is just one of the mass-produced craft-y beers on the market). But while clever marketing has played a part in the success of America’s niche brewers, image alone won’t cut it. What the big boys can’t hope to reproduce is the range of flavors being offered by the independents, and the artistry and audacity with which they ply their trade.

There’s an ongoing contest among craft brewers to produce bigger, badder beers. They’re using experimental ingredients like chili and oysters; they’re fermenting their products in bourbon barrels. And while the results may not always sound agreeable (names like Moose Drool are not uncommon), they’ve secured America a place among the world’s most illustrious brewing nations. Which is no small thing, given that the Belgians and the Brits had a bit of a jump on the market. —PAUL MCMORROW

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Corporations are finding that big ideas often come from little places

That Absolut has seen fit to mix vodka with sparkling wine might not sound like a conceptual breakthrough, but it has roots in one. Absolut Tune, from French beverage giant Pernod Ricard, came about as a result of the company’s new Breakthrough Innovation Group, a standalone division devoted to generating bright (and profitable) ideas. The move seems to be paying off: Pernod Ricard’s net profit rose 9 percent last year to $1.17 billion and the company saw its strongest growth in four years.

Many other big players are becoming smitten with “intrapreneurship”—the idea that if they start acting like startups, they’ll be endowed with heightened creativity. Consumer products conglomerate Kimberly-Clark, for instance, conducts “expert acceleration sessions” that solicit input from academics and entrepreneurs to generate business strategies. Software firm intuit organizes “lean start-ins” that gather intrapreneurs from across the company to create products and services. General Mills has two “innovation squads,” consisting of six to eight employees, tasked with hunting for ideas from inside and outside the organization.

Other companies have been divvying their creative process among smaller, more agile groups. Nowhere is the fear of becoming too large to sustain the spark of creativity greater than in the advertising sector. Which is why the 400-person U.S. digital marketing agency 360i was recently split into teams of five to 25 people that work independently within the broader organization. Groupthink, begone. —BOYD FARROW

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