One writer has compared the issues of business growth and innovation to the process of connecting dots. A client may be frustrated that employees are not noticing things that need correcting and seem so obvious to him or her. By analogy, this could exemplify the single difference between the innovator and the ordinary person: one sees the dots and connects them while others 1) didn’t see them or 2) if they did, they didn’t explore, question, or connect any of them.
Innovation is about teaching people to “connect the dots”; innovation is not all pure talent. While innate abilities certainly help, innovation is fortunately something that can be taught, learned, and reproduced. The big question then for small business leaders is how to teach employees to “connect the dots” in order to bring value, improvement, and innovation to their workplace?
The following represent some tried and true innovation techniques. While these won’t magically solve your innovation challenges, adopting these best practices will steer your small business in the right direction towards an innovation mind-set that encourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
Remember, organizations don’t innovate, people do! These tips will get your contributors started on the right path.
Focus on your customers: Get outside the building and find out what your customers are thinking, saying, and doing. Conduct customer surveys, focus groups and market research to find customer pain points and dissatisfactions. Make it your aim to solve their problems.
Challenge convention: Innovation and convention don’t mix; promote a culture that makes it safe to ask new questions and question old traditions.
Keep the end result in mind: Don’t assume a fixed result endpoint but be prepared to pivot and shift your innovation strategy as market dynamics determine.
Don’t languish in the planning stage: A great start can flame out if the team allows planning and logistics to overwhelm the effort. Stay the course, preserve the vision, and finish strong!
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: The process of innovation will require attributes and attitudes that stretch your comfort zone, but the rewards and outcomes will be well worth it.
Think outside the box: Box? What Box? Too many company structures will impede innovation faster than anything.
Capture all your ideas: Make sure to have everyone capture their innovation efforts either through Post-it notes or digital whiteboards or by taking pictures of the brainstorming sessions. You never know when that “aha” moment will come, so you’ll want to make sure everything is documented.
Assign ownership and follow-through: It’s great to get excited about new ideas and possibilities but without someone to execute the plan and to proceed with next steps, all the effforts can dry up. Assign a champion who will be tasked with taking the initial ideas to the next step, and define what those steps will be.
Create a small, agile team: A team size of 6 to 10 people makes life easier for everyone as it improves communications, builds trust, and improves overall efficiency.
Leave decision-making in the hands of no more than two people: Consolidating the authority will keep the innovation process streamlined and less inclined towards company politics.
Failure is an option: Give people the permission to try and fail. Innovatively this means that failing fast can also lead to rapid learning and a better chance of success in the long run.
Put together a 2020 roadmap: Plan to adopt 2020 as a benchmark to guide and direct new strategies and development goals in the areas of revenue, performance, and customer retention. Ask yourself: “What do I want my business to look like in 6 years?”
Reward progress!: This might seem self-evident but just to be sure business leaders need to give their top innovators some real incentives to continue their good work; a spot bonus or sizeable gift certificate in conjunction with some kind of company wide recognition will send the message that innovation is highly respected and will be rewarded in kind.