Published: Monday, December 21, 2015 at 11:53 a.m.
Is there a formula, method or secret to innovation?
According to Wikipedia, “innovation” is a new idea, more effective device or process. Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions to meet new requirements, unarticulated needs or existing market needs. This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments and society.
While a novel device is often described as an innovation, in economics, management science and other fields of analysis, innovation is generally considered to be a process that brings together various novel ideas in a way that they have an impact on society.
Some of the reasons to innovate include saving time, adding revenue, reducing costs, improving quality and solving problems.
Connie Certusi, executive vice president of Sage Small Business Solutions, says, “There are always better ways to do things, and it’s a business owner’s job to ignite a culture that not only supports, but empowers and rewards consistent innovation. Break down the walls across your entire organization. Your employees should be allowed to question things. You, as the business leader, must encourage free thinking and pushing the envelope.”
It is not enough to come up with an innovative idea unless it can be implemented.
Kathleen Lynch, an intellectual property attorney, suggests: “Approach your problem from a different angle. Developments in one area of technology can help solve problems that exist in another area of technology where no one has yet applied that technology.”
“Inspiration must come from the problem, not the novelty of the solution,” says Bruce Daley of Great Divide Research and author of “Where Data is Wealth.”
Tom Kuczmarski, professor of product and service innovation at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, is the author of six books on innovation and leadership. He also is co-founder of the Chicago Innovation Awards, which recognize the most innovative new products brought to market each year in the Chicago region. Tom has created a list of “Innovation Best Practices” and here are two:
Uncover customer problems and needs: Too often, companies will start their innovation process with idea generation when the first step should be in-depth ethnographic research to uncover customers needs and values. This way, product solutions are exactly what the customer wanted instead of just some new product of technology that can come off as gimmicky.
Play in cross-functional teams: A cross-functional team is comprised of members from different business areas (marketing, manufacturing, sales, finance, etc.) working together on an innovative project. Bringing different perspectives to a potential project may result in a product that sells better, is processed, shipped and sustained more successfully.
Daryl Gibson, founder at Innovation X, says that there is a method to success and suggests three solutions to common problems:
Validate the idea first. “Make sure it’s something people want or need, and that it can be provided at a cost the market is willing to bear.”
Identify the problem being solved and the market who will want it. If this isn’t possible, don’t move forward.
Risk and failure are a part of the idea development process. Validate ideas in small, manageable iterations that won’t take the business down if an idea doesn’t work.
Justin Brady, with the Test of Time Design marketing agency, believes “Strategic listening is the foremost and proven secret to inspiring innovation and creativity. Small business owners still struggle with it. The best ideas come out of quiet comments, feedback and ideas that seem impossible. Leaders who demonstrate strategic listening always kick the pants off the competition. Strategic listeners write down feedback, ask clarifying questions and do not pass judgment. They flush out ideas from their staff no matter how far-fetched they may seem at first.”
The culture must embrace failure. Failure inevitably will come from trying new things. The key is to expect failure and embrace it. People must feel free to innovate. Great ideas can come from anyone in your organization. Adapt a culture of fail, fail often, and, hopefully, fail inexpensively. Trial and error allows you to enter into a feedback loop allowing further innovation to occur.
Julie Austin, CEO of the consulting firm Creative Innovation Group, is an inventor and innovation expert who trains Fortune 500 companies on how to generate and implement new ideas. She recommends, “Generate as many ideas as possible without initial judgment. Innovate by getting out of your comfort zone. Ask why. Don’t get stuck in that ‘this the way it’s always been done’ mode.”
Good luck as you innovate. Remember to ask your customers what they want, while keeping your competition in mind. Often your innovative idea will be a combination of existing ideas. Innovation may be no more difficult than rearranging the spokes on your proverbial wheel.
Always consider what someone may be willing to pay for your bright idea because a great idea without customers is only a bright idea.
— Dennis Zink is a volunteer, certified mentor and chapter chair of Manasota SCORE and Chair of Realize Bradenton. He is the creator and host of Been There, Done That! with Dennis Zink, a nationally syndicated business podcast series. He facilitates a CEO roundtable for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, created a MeetUp group, Success Strategies for Business Owners and is a business consultant. Email him at [email protected].