Those moments when we’re lucky enough to experience true innovation can be thrilling. Many people starting a business for themselves experience this daily as creating new methods, processes and structures to overcome unforeseen challenges becomes almost routine.
However, keeping the innovation alive can be difficult. IDC’s recent Tech-Savvy Businesses Do It Better white paper, created in partnership with Sage, shows innovating products and services are among the top three most challenging activities for more than a quarter of the 1,000 small and micro businesses that were surveyed globally.
Yet just as a shark needs to keep moving to stay alive, businesses need to keep moving too – constantly innovating, refining operations, and adapting to change is necessary for a business to thrive.
The good news is that innovation is a skill that can be learned and honed, as can the flipside of the coin: execution and implementation. Here are some tips.
Create time for innovation
While ideas can strike just about anywhere and at any moment, structuring these ideas and turning them into reality requires time. Indeed, IDC research revealed only 8% of small businesses reported that they spend quality time on innovating products and services.
The key phrase is “make time”, because the occasion won’t come about of its own accord and nor should you realistically hope to be able to catch spare minutes here or there for the activity. They simply won’t arrive.
Making time is, of course, a struggle in itself when faced with the challenge of admin. In fact, managing day-to-day finance and admin is one of the most time-consuming activities reported by small business owners.
Grabbing back precious time is therefore an obvious way forward and there’s an easy solution here: embracing technologies such as mobile and cloud computing.
Put simply, with technology reducing the admin burden as much as possible, time is freed up for the core business activities such as ideas generation.
This isn’t an exaggeration. IDC research found that small business owners that had committed to digital technologies not only had four times more time dedicated to innovation but were far more likely to be experiencing double-digit growth.
In other words, don’t consider modern technologies such as mobile or the cloud as optional. They aren’t. Without them your business simply can’t compete in the modern world – and not having the time to innovate shows this all too clearly.
Involve other people
Nobody ever said you should innovate by yourself. One of the best sources of ideas and opinions is other people, whether it’s your staff, customers, partners, suppliers, friends or family.
Using social media and online feedback tools, you can capture customer insight in more structured ways. This doesn’t have to be limited to sourcing news ideas, it can also help forge closer business relationships with customers who are fully engaged with your business and in turn can act as unprompted advocates.
Your staff or the people you work with are also likely to be full of ideas and will also appreciate being invited to become involved in such a central part of your business.
Empowering them to come up with solutions or deliver change and drive improvements means they’ll also experience and appreciate them first-hand, which can be a hugely rewarding and positive experience.
Innovate the innovation process
Assuming you already allocate time for innovation and you have a long list of ideas to make improvements or drive new directions in which your business must travel, what do you do next?
Start by prioritising what you have. Look at the impact of an idea, your ability to execute the idea and the time that would take. Find the strongest idea (high impact and easy to execute) and commit to it. This doesn’t have to be complicated.
If your business is in retail, this could involve opening earlier on a Saturday, or putting a point-of-sale terminal next to the cash register. If your business is service-oriented, it could be as simple as contacting five dormant customers every day, or creating a presence on a new social media platform.
If your idea doesn’t work or pay off immediately, then remember: ultimately, you’re no worse off and you’ll probably have learned and gained from the experience.
In other words, the process of innovation isn’t inherently about success each time. In the early days at least, it can be more about formalising the process.
Above all, remember that ideas generation is only half the process – innovation also requires the implementation of ideas into reality.
Even if your innovation leads to massive success, the key thing is to ensure you keep the innovative process going. Critically, you need to ensure you keep innovating the innovative process so that you get the most out of it.