You already know the famous saying, “do the same old thing, the same old way and get the same old results”. This is never truer than during challenging economic times. The market is full of businesses just like yours and the customer needs to make a choice. Your same old message, based upon your same old business plan may no longer resonate and you’ll be at risk of losing out to the businesses that innovate. Innovation is clearly a method of differentiation.
Every CEO and business leader will claim that their business innovates; they will cite a few new initiatives in their annual plan. However there can be a huge gap between plans, efforts and actual results. I won’t use companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple to prove that innovation works, they might be outliers, although you might be amazed what “outliers” have in common by reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book on the subject.
Let’s instead look at Blinds.com, it started as Laura’s Draperies with Jay Steinfeld trying to sell blinds and shades door to door, a really tough gig. He built his first web site in 1993 and by 1996 was selling products over the web as NoBrainerBlinds.com. In 2004 Jay changed the name to Blinds.com and the business was growing. A defining moment came in 2007 when Jay introduced a real innovation, on-line videos explaining how to properly measure a window and then install a blind. Blinds.com now has a complete library covering dozens of “how to” video’s that make buying and using their products risk-free.
I could go on and on with innovation stories, even law firms have examples of innovations. Some are offering Project Management services to help align efforts and results with their clients. Other are offering self-help like Goodwin Procter, a Boston-based firm providing startup entrepreneurs and venture capitalists with free documents and tips on best practices on a site called Founders Workbench. Can you imagine that, free advice and forms.
Here are 5 ideas to keep in mind when deciding on innovation projects.
- Get Away. The best way to come up with innovative ideas is to completely get away from your normal daily grind. Find a place to just goof off, clear you head and turn off the cell phones and email. Set-up a creative environment that allows people’s minds to ask why and why not.
- Plan on Failure, and Fail Early. Everything we do in business is to avoid failure, but innovation can’t exist without at least a tolerance for failure. Businesses can accept pilot project that are innovative and then structure the roll-out to test for failed concepts. Nobody should feel threatened for a failed innovation.
- Alignment. The best innovations are where the business aligns their core capabilities with the customers’ needs. What are your core strengths, what value can you provide your customer? In the case above, Goodwin aligned their expertise in helping emerging companies grow with an entrepreneur’s desire for self-prepared documents.
- Ask Why and Why Not. Question everything, look at the client experience. When I think of Heinz ketchup I think of the bottle being upside down, makes it much easier to use. I’m not sure they invented this concept but someone there must have had a eureka moment. Turn things upside-down and see what happens.
- Leadership and Change. Make sure that you have CEO driven projects, or at least find a Vice President of Change in your business to help provide the leadership necessary to make innovation in your business an on-going process, not just an annual event.
When starting out, look for small “hits”, you don’t need a home-run in your first at-bat. These will come as you build a culture and track record for innovative ideas.