By now, you probably already know that innovation is good for business. It keeps entrepreneurs in touch with today’s markets and customers’ demands, stands them out from amongst their competition, and turns tomorrow’s challenges into opportunities.
But it’s not always clear how individual businesses should innovate.
A lot of people think that innovation is principally about super creative people coming up with mind blowing ideas that turn whole industries on their heads. This sort of thinking is flawed. You don’t have to be exceptionally creative to find new product ideas or discover brilliant ways of delivering services. In fact, innovation doesn’t even have to be entirely new or strikingly ‘brilliant’.
Innovation in business is simply about finding ways to make your products and processes much better. And you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to get this done. As you’ll see, a good deal of innovative work leverages already existing ideas and technologies; what makes such work noteworthy is how ideas and resources are applied to achieve business goals.
Innovation works because it responds to a perpetual desire for improvement that most humans share. It upgrades products (or replaces them with better ones), makes our experiences more enjoyable, and adds greater value to our lives. If you’re going to do innovation right, you’ll have to make sure it ticks these boxes for your customers and your business.
Innovation in six steps
Here’s how to innovate for the sake of your business’s growth.
Ask your customers… and observe them
Find out what your customers think of your products, and what improvements they’d like to see. Their feedback should help you know how you should change things in your business. There might be a good number of approaches to doing this, so you’ll have to come up with one that satisfies your customers’ needs, while fitting in well with your resource constraints (time, money, staff, etc).
You should also observe your customers for clues that’ll inform your product design and marketing decisions. For example, the peculiarities of local conditions might mean that some products introduced from elsewhere might not be purchased in significant enough quantities by consumers in the new location. You could find innovative ways to modify that product- or the way it’s marketed -to appeal to local tastes and sensitivities. The first step to doing this would be to observe your target market in the area concerned in order to understand their sentiments and preferences.
What about the other players in your industry? What are they doing with their products? How can you learn from their strengths? How can you present your business as an alternative to their weak points?
We see this play out in the rivalries between some of the world’s biggest companies. These firms zero in on their competitors’ defects and try to become the ready substitute to them for dissatisfied consumers. But they also try to match the competition’s star offerings- or, again, provide an equally good (or better) option.
Admittedly, this process is hardly ever straightforward. And unless you’ve been pre-exposed to a variety of approaches to problem solving, you’ll find innovation extra difficult. In short, you’re probably as good an innovator as the reservoir of ideas you’ve learnt over time.
When brainstorming, it’s important to note that you understand the challenge you’re trying to confront, and have a fairly good idea what a solution look like. Think these through in the light of your resource constraints and your market’s socio-economic environment; your best solutions should work well within these realities.
Adapt existing ideas to your own situation
You could learn things from books, the web, or in trade conferences and meetups, and apply them in ways that are adapted to work in your own business or locality. You could even borrow ideas and processes from an industry that’s very different from yours, if you think there’s a good chance that they’ll improve your business’s productive efficiency and make your products more attractive.
Take suggestions from your team
The fantastic idea you’ve been trying so hard to discover by yourself might aleady be nestling quite comfortably in the mind of a team mate or staff. You might as well find it out from them.
There’s also the benefit of learning from differing perspectives on an issue, and using the best insights and suggestions from that lot. Combining ideas in this manner could birth innovative ways of building your brand and growing your business.
When you’re unable to spark innovative change from within, you might consider having it done from outside your enterprise. You could outsource the responsibility of coming up with new ideas to consultancies; or you could contract individuals or agencies to handle certain aspects of your business.
Companies choose to outsource some tasks for various reasons. This might include the need to devote more time to core business concerns, or for cost cutting reasons. Whatever the reasons might be, the resouces freed up (or hired) in this process could contribute to building a more innovative business.