Innovation Lessons For Small Business Owners

Innovation is the lifeblood of a business. Companies who use the same methods and offer the same wares year in and year out without growing, expanding or offering something groundbreaking to the public end up dying or falling to the wayside while more experimental and brilliant upstarts titillate the public with novel approaches and ideas.

The demand to innovate is often intimidating to companies. However, it need not be as many businesses innovate without knowing it, simply during the course of doing business as they seek to meet customers’ impromptu desires.

Learning to innovate gets easier when you study lessons from those who are already doing it. Here are five lessons from innovative companies.

Lesson #1: Don’t fight rogue or unorthodox competition. Learn from it.

In every field, there are the renegades, the fringe operators who somehow shift business away from mainstream companies. They aren’t enemies, however. Look at them as a source for innovation.

Apple responded to the age of peer to peer file sharing with its own commercial enterprise, for example. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, music companies cringed at profit losses as  online peer-to-peer music sharing models allowed people to swap music for free, ignoring intellectual property rights and the need for companies and artists to make a buck.

Many demonized these P2P services and tried to shut them down. However, true innovators looked to the heart of the trend and realized that people wanted to acquire music on-demand, on a single-song basis, online and in the MP3 format. Thus emerged Apple’s ITunes store in 2003 that offered individual songs for an inexpensive price. To make it easier to listen to the songs on the go, Apple continued its innovation by creating the iPod. Every new development is a bridge to another new development. The key is to see the next rung in the ladder of invention before anyone else does.

Lesson #2: Do What Others Find Too Cumbersome to Do

Complicated, routine tasks are required in any field. If it’s a pain but necessary, it may just be a launching pad for your business’s next innovation.  If your company has the expertise and resources to specialize in an in-demand skill, offering services with a high level of reliability and quality control, other companies will gladly use your service in order to reduce their own burdens.  Case in point, Forbes Magazine spotlights the story of an innovative businessman who harnessed technology and decided to create a business that provided remote pool monitoring for clients who needed to keep an eye on pool water quality.  Assess your own field and see if there are rudimentary tasks that no one has automated; be the company to do so.

Lesson #3: Never Become Comfortable

Those who remain on the cutting-edge of business don’t sit around praising successful efforts and repeating the same system over and over again because it works. Even if you’ve found an efficient system in any company aspect, aim to push it to the next level. Look to see how you can incorporate new technology, theories, ideas, locations and methodology.  Read widely on any new developments, especially those linked in any way to your field. Read with curiosity, thinking about how you can leverage anything novel for your own business to better serve customers.

Lesson #4 : Do What Hasn’t Been Done — Especially if People Think It’s Preposterous

This lesson has allowed innovators to create airplanes, rocket ships, alternative fuel and even hotels in space (they’re coming).   Often, people laugh at what could be a game-changing innovation  because it’s so contrary to how things are being done that it seems ludicrous.  Be the company or the executive who does things the way they’ve never been done. Leave a trail of bewildered faces behind you as you break the rules and thumb your nose at convention.  A master innovator, Google recently did this by creating a car that can drive itself; it’s a concept that seems scary, reckless and outrageous to many. Yet, in the near future, the driverless car, which has already been approved for use in California, may allow blind people and senior citizens to be independent and mobile.  It may reduce accidents. It’s already spurred a copycat British model that is set to debut on the roads in 2025. What’s your preposterous idea?

Lesson #5: Pool Elite Brains

Many geniuses prefer working alone. For those who are brilliant, but not genius, collaboration can often force out innovative thought. Companies should strive to hire those who are creative and unconventional thinkers.  Sometimes, a business doesn’t know these people are on staff and must watch every employee at all levels to see where the restless and experimental minds are. Combine those people.  Let them feed off each other and explore their ideas. Silicon Valley companies were famous for creating coalitions of brainiacs in order to brainstorm the next big thing.

 

Denise Wilson writes for Cloverleaf Innovation’s website

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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