We all talk about innovation and disruption but few of us actually do anything about it. Sometimes we say we don’t need to Innovate, we just need to hunker down and be better at what we already do. That’s okay. Sometimes. But other times we know it’s not okay and that we need to innovate to survive and thrive. The problem: few know the secrets to successfully move thoughts about innovation into action.
This blog might help. It might not. Worse case you’ll get to the end of it and have learned nothing about innovation that you didn’t already know. Best case scenario you might actually do something to transform and enrich your business, maybe even your life. I’ve listed some of the things I’ve learned about innovation over the years, but more importantly, listed a ton of resources for you to draw from created by people far smarter than me. Ready to innovate? Read on.
What is innovation as it relates to business? According to TechTarget, “Business innovation is an organization's process for introducing new ideas, workflows, methodologies, services or products.” So, stuff that helps you run your business more efficiently or make money in new ways.
Ask “WHY?”: If you are growing by double digits every year and margins are ridiculously high then perhaps innovation should be at the bottom of your list. You’re killing it, so keep it up! If, however, you are seeing an increase in competition and margins and close rates are under pressure than perhaps you should think about innovation. You need to have an honest look at your business and your channel and make sure cognitive dissonance takes a back seat. We lie to ourselves more often than we do to anybody else. That needs to stop or innovative thinking will never have a chance.
Storm your brain: Focus is great when you’re moving an initiative forward but it’s deadly when you’re trying to give birth to a new one. At least in the early stages. Make sure you start with a few ideas and don’t be afraid to think wildly outside the box. Once you have a few good ideas you can start to fine tune them and see which one to start with (if any!). In a nutshell you’ll do some brainstorming. Inc. has a list of 10 proven ways you can brainstorm effectively. All of them are very good and you can read about them here.
Ask “Do I dig this?”: As you come up with innovative ideas you need to benchmark them against your corporate culture. A surfboard company run by a laid-back environmentalist is going to be able to move through innovation hoops that a Fortune 500 investment CEO may not. Good ideas are one thing. Knowing which ones will fit your corporate culture is another thing entirely. Bottom line, if you and your people are trying to be something you're not the ideas are doomed to failure. Maybe you’re even the kind of company that will never innovate. In that case, stop reading this article and read this one on Why Innovation is Overrated instead.
How do I make money with this? Once you’ve decided on an innovation you need to model it and make sure it’s a winner. By “winner” I mean will it make you money or will it save you money. Keep in mind that how you make money with your innovation may be completely different from how you do it today. A great example is the music industry. The innovation: Acquiring music online as a digital file vs. traditional CD. The billing model: People thought it was going to be “buying” music online. The prominent model turned out to be “renting” music through subscription programs. There was a collective “oops” that is still rumbling through the music industry. The bottom line: Your innovative idea may need an entirely new business model for execution. The company I work for, Print Audit, moved to a flat-rate subscription program for our services a few years ago. We used to sell stuff. Now we’re really, really happy we don’t. You might be shocked at the kinds of things being billed “as a service” today. Check this out.
Work with a proven innovation methodology: One of my favourites is a free online bootcamp created by Stanford University’s d.school. They have a 90 minute innovation bootcamp that will give you a good foundation for what’s involved. It’s free and it’s awesome. Check it out here. If that works for you they have great advice for moving the methodology into half day sessions to get some real ideas off the ground.
Any good examples of successful innovation? I can only speak to the industry I’m in: The office equipment world.
- The problem: Users are starting to print less every year thanks to digital alternatives to the printed page. The industry’s primary billing models are by cartridge and by page. So, fewer pages being printed equals less revenue.
- The innovation: The Seat Based Billing Executive Council was formed and we built the world’s first Seat Based Billing model for print services which decreases customer spend while increasing dealer profits.
We’re all about sharing. You can see the Seat Based Billing primer here as some of the innovative ideas will be useful to your business if you’re in our channel or not.
I’m still stuck! Like I said in the opening paragraph, this article might not help you at all. It’s not your fault, it’s mine. That’s not true of course but it might make you feel better about doing nothing and you can get on with doing what you’ve always done. Maybe we’ll see you in 5 years, maybe we won’t.
Which list will you be on in 5 years?