Saturday, 17 April 2010

Small business innovation

Innovation may not be critical in your industry (yet). And it's not just something you can "do".  But – you should be looking at your business to see how you can make it more likely that innovation happens...

• Innovative ideas are not born in a moment of inspiration; they are the result of lots of thinking, trial and error over a long period. You need to put the necessary environment in place. If you can, hire people who are bright and challenge convention. If staff demonstrate that they are thinking of different ways of doing things – encourage and praise them. Recognise and reward ideas (even if they aren’t useful);

• Most innovations are the result of errors, failed experiments, crises and copy errors – in short, evolution. Show your staff that learning from crisis or failure is valuable when it is used to improve the way things are done. Don’t punish failure which results from appropriate risk-taking. Make post-event evaluation and learning second-nature to your staff;

• There is a time and a place to innovate. This probably isn’t when backing up your main servers or running your payroll. Separate and tightly control high risk, high importance activities;

• You can’t set up a system to guarantee innovative ideas. But you can demonstrate what innovative behaviour looks like and how it will be rewarded;

• Almost everyone in your organisation will resist new ways. Make it easy for new ideas to reach you;

• The best ideas come from groups – people build on and encourage each other’s insights. Encourage open discussion of issues and communication across teams – don’t pigeon-hole people;

• There will be loads of ideas in your organisation. You just need to talk to people. Ask them what they would do differently, or what customers would really like;

• You don’t know best. Make sure you don’t reject ideas without discussion or make people afraid to suggest new ways. Don’t let your fear stifle your employees’ imagination;

• A better mousetrap doesn’t always win. There are loads of examples of inferior products succeeding –how about Windows for a start? Don’t let the search for perfection kill a flawed but pretty neat idea that you can sell today;

• Innovation has to serve a need. Despite all the points above, just being new is not sufficient. There has to be a problem which the innovation addresses (even if, like fear of BO and deodorant, you have to create the problem through marketing first);

• An innovation may be a Bad Thing. Just look at Big Brother, shell suits and speed cameras.

Based on ‘The Myths of Innovation’ by Scott Berkun as interpreted by Yann Gourvanec

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