The business world today is plagued by a particular buzzword, innovation. In too many cases the term innovation is associated with, integration of high-tech gadgets by dumping old systems, exploiting more resources and eventually, spending a (small) fortune to create something entirely new. While such actions may bring results at times, there are some fundamental ideologies that are missing in most innovation projects which lead to disappointment.
Innovation doesn’t often happen in a predictable manner, rather it occurs because of a failure, i.e. when something does/did not work. Most company cultures encourage learning from mistakes and look for ways to turn these mistakes into opportunities. An example of a company that manages to embrace failure is Honda. Sochiro Honda, founder of Honda, believes that “success is 99% failure”. Embedding a culture of “learning from failure” is easier said than done. Smaller businesses are more vulnerable to such problems – mainly due to resource constraints. However, there are some fundamental philosophies which can help to mould a culture of innovation.
1. Innovation starts from your mindset
It all begins with mindset. Innovation, in itself, is not a complicated (as opposed to complex) exercise – but it does require a mindset change. As soon as you start to believe that change brings improvement, there is innovation. This is not to say it is easy. When issues come up that challenge us, or cause us to rate ourselves against others, we can easily fall into a pattern that limits our mindset growth. To maintain a “growth” mindset, we must clearly identify the triggers that are both negative and complementary to this growth.
Some of the issues to consider when adopting the innovation mindset are:
- You and your staff need time to innovate; it is unlikely to occur when you do not dedicate time to the process.
- Do not expect to always be successful or fall into the trap of thinking innovation is a natural consequence of simply spending time working on it. Take the view that it needs practice and time to implement.
- Once your staff are engaged in the process, ensure you spend sufficient time reviewing the ideas they have come up with. Not doing this will cause them to become demotivated.
2. Innovation is to create improved value
One of the common reasons why businesses fail is because they can’t identify the core value that customers want from a product. The other fundamental misconception is that innovation is disruption – this is incorrect! Innovation offers improved value, solving consumers problems better than the current situation. Therefore, the quest for innovation should not start from the boardroom, rather from the ‘frustration’ of the end user.
To understand ‘value’- you have to research customer’s needs. Your consumer is in the best position to inform what you are (should be) good at and what you need to improve at. Therefore, it is crucial to create a robust system, preferably through research, which allows the exploration of your customers’ needs.
3. Innovation is dynamic
For innovation to take place, learning and ‘unlearning’ is very important. As a leader you have to be quick to react. You cannot afford to remain static, as it will likely lead to your business’s downfall. Brands such as Kodak and Nokia come to mind. The point is that when large companies with so many resources fail, it reminds us that smaller business need to continuously be mindful of the importance of what should be learnt, and unlearnt, while going through the innovation process. An example of successful innovation is Dyson. This is a company that embraces and combines all the philosophies discussed.
4. Innovation stems from Innovative leadership
A leader needs to display certain behaviours to ensure innovation change takes place.
For small business owners, it is likely that many of these traits do not come naturally and need to be learnt. The key takeaway is to be assertive, but not aggressive.
- Learn how to share your and others views instead of forcing them on other.
- Start to recognise leadership qualities in others and appreciate the role they can play in helping change the staffs’ mindset.
- There are times your ideas and thoughts , specifically in the innovation ‘space’, will be questioned. Be comfortable being able to communicate clearly, with conviction and feeling, to back your own ideas.
It is important as a leader that when you follow through with the ideas, that you select a team who is strong in management. They need to ensure they maintain accuracy, can provide training if needed and motivate others. In addition, ensure you manage the risks, anticipate problems and do not allow yourself to be boxed in when issues do occur.
The journey of innovation is relentless, characterised by setbacks, failures and learning. The notion of getting it completely right should not distract from the ultimate goal. It is a process of ‘tiny steps’ that eventually leads to a new and better mindset for the business and its staff.
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