As you’ll come to discover in your entrepreneurial journey, there’s the constant need to implement new products, services, and business processes, in consonance with the ever evolving needs of your customers and your business. So, how do you go about this task of tinkering with new ideas that will not only launch/keep your businesses afloat, but also retain/sharpen your competitive edge? Before we wade into our suggested answers to this question, let's take a cursory look at Sony Corporation's inspiring evolution.
Today, thanks to an untiring pursuit of innovative solutions, Sony is one of the leading brands in consumer and professional electronics. When the company started in 1945, its first ever attempt at creating a product – an electric rice cooker, was a resounding failure. The appliance mostly produced either overcooked or under-cooked rice. Undeterred, the company revised their strategy and forged ahead, leaving a trail of commercially successful products e.g. the Power megaphone, revolutionary tape recorders, etc., in their wake. In 1953, Sony (then known as Totsuko), obtained a license for the transistor (developed by Bell Laboratories). A great move that would later give birth to the TR-55, Japan’s first transistor radio, and transistorized televisions years later. The key to their success was and still is innovation.
Are you ready to be innovative? Here are few practical ways to start:
1. Look out for problems to solve: good innovative ideas often stem from practical problems that need to be solved. Sometimes, there are already existing products or services that solve these problems but, according to Angela Benton – founder/CEO, NewMe Accelerator, “Great ideas and innovations come from executing on your idea in a different way than everybody else is attacking it, if they're attacking it at all.” Creativity is the key!
2. Get customer feedback: you’ll be amazed by how much you can learn by simply asking your customers how you could improve your products or services. Other times, observing how your clients use your products may inspire new product ideas. Also, keep an ear out for complaints about difficulties in using your existing products or services. This will inform subsequent product or service improvements.
3. Stay abreast of new technology: sometimes, being innovative doesn’t always mean bringing something new into the market. It could mean learning to use new technology to carry out your business activities. For instance, the founders of Sony only got to find out about transistors after a trip to the US in 1952. They wasted no time in applying for a licence. It is important that you keep up with the times as an entrepreneur. You never can tell what new ideas a new technological innovation can give you.
4. Collaborate! Sometimes, innovative ideas and solutions are inspired by collaborations. Working with an entirely different business with a similar vision/philosophy is a tried and true method for coming up with disruptive innovation. A good example is the collaboration of The Coca Cola Company and furniture maker Emeco to manufacture chairs made entirely of recycled bottles.
5. Adopt a product adaptation strategy: you could try to adapt your products or services to meet the need of a different set of consumers or an entirely new target market. Obviously, this is done after proper research on customer needs and competitors' product offerings have been carried out. This strategy is particularly useful to fledgling businesses who want to create new products but do not have the resources needed to develop them.
6. Leverage the power of incentives: the offer of incentives to employees and team members has the tested and trusted ability to spur them towards achieving and even surpassing your goals when it comes to coming up with workable innovative ideas for your business. Their active participation is more likely to produce more groundbreaking ideas.
7. Employ the services of bright young people: according to Ted Greenwald - a Forbes contributor, "Young people don't have fixed ideas of what's possible and, more to the point, what's not. You need an attitude that anything can happen." The internet allows you an unimaginable range of choices when it comes to getting these talented young people to join your company and germinate it with innovative solutions. Crowdsourcing is an especially effective tool for innovation.
8. Force yourself and your team to think outside the box: this can be achieved by setting limits to the amount of money, time or input needed in the innovation process. Having tighter boundaries will encourage creativity as your team will look for ways to work around the limits to get the best results possible.
9. Keep your knowledge and expertise up-to-date: Attending/organizing training workshops for your team is one way of enhancing skill sets within your group and also giving them the proper tools to think and bolster innovative thinking.
10. Don't be afraid to fail: more often than not, innovation involves stepping out of your comfort zone. The fear of failure stifles creativity. As stated in an earlier post, the most successful entrepreneurs are those who are the least deterred by failure. If you're looking to come up with the next big thing, don't be scared. Let the possibility of success drive your efforts.
For innovation to thrive, we at C4C believe that a culture that allows people to invent and to become practicing entrepreneurs should be promoted, especially considering the growing rate of unemployment around the world. This is why we are striving to create a sustainable ecosystem of young entrepreneurs by writing useful articles on entrepreneurship and in the near future, we shall soon kick-start a mentoring program for aspiring entrepreneurs.
We’d be delighted to hear what you think about the need for innovation. Feel free to leave comments.