Innovation lessons for business owners
People talk about innovation lessons all the time and yet what does it really take to be an innovator? This is not just about what you want to do, nor about why you want to. It is important to understand if you as a person, are a natural innovator. There are lessons to be learned about innovation from everywhere. However, I find I ask what really works.
I am often engaged to speak about innovation and strategy, not in an academic kind of way, people want to know how I took an idea and turned it into reality. One thing (unfortunately) that we do know is that most start-up businesses never reach the heights that match the dreams of the founder, yet others are a runaway success. I’m not yet putting my enterprises into the category of ‘runaway’ successes – but we are managing to serve many customers, achieve growth, and have a good time while doing it. So, we are getting something right.
RedBalloon is now a sixteen-year journey for me. There is an independent leadership team and I don’t have an operational role. What I do reflect on is the evolution of a business, its brand presence and how the processes have changed over time – even though it is still a relatively small business. My gung-ho ‘let’s ship’ attitude was not sustainable to build a robust enterprise.
The bigger a business becomes, the less it tends to take risks and try new ideas, and its speed to execute takes longer – however, being responsible and having systems and processes does not mean that innovation diminishes.
Redii.com, (the employee recognition software business) has a small and agile team, tries new things, listens to customers intently and makes changes at the speed of light. Innovation lessons can be hard to learn.
Reflecting on why is it that the smaller the business, the more nimble and innovative it is. There are some key elements that are critical to maintaining the sense of urgency, pragmatism and change that are needed to drive an innovative culture and execute on strategy.
The first thing is, when you see a problem – rather than seeing it as an issue and something to interrupt the matter of business, see it as an opportunity to improve and change. Ask yourself; is there a way to solve this problem forever? In another word, if you fix this ‘one thing’ will life become easier, better or faster?
Perhaps you can look at the human behaviours that sit behind innovation.
Ask yourself are you:
1. Visionary: Do you operate with a sense of purpose knowing the overall direction that you (and your business) are heading? Innovation often comes from connecting a problem to the overall purpose or strategy of the enterprise.
2. Curious: Do you challenge the status quo and how things are done, do you ask a lot of questions? “Why” is a word you use regularly. You read a lot, and learn as much as you can – you have a thirst for knowledge.
3. Persistent: If the problem seems hard, or unresolvable, you don’t give in. You are a dog with a bone not wanting to let it up. You ask yourself, “what will it take to fix this thing?” You know that real change takes consistent effort and energy.
4. Adaptable: You might be persistent and stick with things, but you are also listening, learning and adapting. Your way is not the right way – you are gathering other people’s insights, being flexible and open-minded.
5. Risk Taker: You have given up your fear of taking risks and ‘putting yourself’ out there. You know that part of ‘success’ is the ability to fail, pick yourself up and keep going. You learn from your mistakes and you discover the cost benefit return, on failing. You are willing to give it a ‘crack’ repeatedly.
6. Positive: You do believe that the world could be a slightly better place because of the work you do. You want to improve and are continually optimistic about the potential outcomes of your innovation. You are not a perfectionist and know that the world is not perfect, you are able to say ‘this is enough’ to test the idea or produce a minimal viable product (concept) to get in front of others to get their insights.
7. Woo: You have a natural ability to sell in your ideas and bring others with you on the journey. You are strong emotionally, and don’t fear rejection – you know that as a trail blazer you will often be out there in front on your own. But you love it, you thrive on bringing other people along the way. You have an ability to woo people (Win Others Over) with your natural enthusiasm for your project.
If you think that have the traits of an innovator – perhaps your next step is to grab a copy of Ready to Soar.