Up until a few years ago, many businesses could survive and prosper by making only small, incremental changes. Things were done pretty much the same way as they had been 10, 20, or even 50 years earlier. Retail in the year 2000 wasn’t that different to retail in 1900. Customers came into your shop and bought stuff. Banking in 2000 wasn’t that different to banking in 1800. You lent, you borrowed, you charged a margin.
In the year 2000 it was easy to think of innovation as being mainly for entrepreneurs and scientists. Now it’s something every business needs to be doing.
2017 is very different from 2007. Social media, automation, buy-with-a-click, customer engagement, big data and the cloud are just some of the things that have, in just a few years, gone from being incredible to being normal.
It’s naïve to think the next 10 years won’t bring just as much change.
So if you are doing great now, is what you are doing going to cut it in 2027? Or 2022? Or even 2020?
If you accept that the business environment will continue to change rapidly, then it follows that your business needs a strategy to understand that change and react to it. That is, an innovation strategy.
How much of your time do you spend working out how to get your business ready for tomorrow? Or are all your resources tied up coping with today?
Do you have an offsite day, conference or a kick-off once a year where you share information and talk about how your customers, your markets and your competition are changing, and what that means for your business, but then go back to work and do things exactly the same way? Or, do you follow through and devote time every week, every day, to working out how to do things better?
Do you get stuck looking at problems in the same old rigid way, or can you be flexible and creative? We have two cars of the same make and their keys are identical. I found it really irritating not being able to work out which was which. I looked all over the keys for a distinguishing mark but found nothing. My daughter looked at me like I was an idiot. ‘Put a bit of tape on one,’ she said.
It’s so easy to get caught in patterns of behaviour and thinking. In my mind, I had to find some difference in the appearance of the keys. My daughter was flexible enough in her thinking to realise that I could create that difference by adding tape.
People often complain that great ideas for solving problems and taking advantage of opportunities never come to them, but often that is because they never spend time trying to think of them. And if they do, they have one idea that doesn’t work and then give up.
Innovation isn’t a talent, it’s a skill. We can all practice and improve.
Here are 5 things you can do to become more innovative.
1. Look out for problems. When you find something in your business that doesn’t work perfectly, don’t just accept it. If you find a system that is clunky, or a customer complains about something, see it as an opportunity for innovation. Identifying the opportunity is the first step.
2. Find out more. Before you try to solve a problem, find out as much as you can about it. What does the problem look like? What are it’s causes? Are they technological, psychological, logistical, economic, something else, or a combination?
3. Get out of your way and think. Innovation doesn’t happen without someone having an idea, and sometimes you need to have a lot of ideas before you come across the one that best solves the problem. So stop judging yourself, think of lots of ideas and flesh them out. They won’t all work, but that’s okay. Be prepared to fail before you succeed.
4. Be smart with resources. Don’t throw lots of time and money at an idea just because it looks cool. Do small scale trials, use the different skills of people in your organisation, and be evidence based. If you love an idea, but it’s not going to save you or make you more money than it costs to implement, get rid of it and move onto the next one.
5. Don’t do it all yourself. Innovation isn’t just for leaders. Those working with systems, those dealing with customers, often have a great awareness of where the problems are, and how to solve them. Every business’s biggest resource is the brains of their people. Use it.