Is your New Year’s resolution to make your small business more innovative in 2012? If so, these 11 tips will help you get going.
1. Partner. As small business owners, we’ve all got fewer resources these days, so it makes sense to partner with companies that have the deep pockets needed to help us bring our ideas to market. Big corporations ranging from technology companies like LG to consumer packaged goods like Unilever and Kraft have sites where you can submit your solutions to requests the companies pose…and possibly develop a profitable long-term relationship.
2. Tap into the crowd. Crowdsourcing is all the rage these days, and for good reason. Tapping into the brainpower of people all over the world via the Internet can help you fine-tune your ideas, get real-time feedback and even find partners who can help you manufacture or distribute your product. Two good crowdsourcing sites to try are GeniusCrowds and Quirky.
3. Make room for creativity. Whether for your team or for yourself, set aside that inspires creativity. Make it comfortable, stimulating and above all, non-boring. Provide plenty of props to spur ideas (toys, Legos, magazines) as well as a range of tools to capture the concepts you come up with (whiteboards, colored pens, tablets).
4. Join the community. Many innovation-oriented websites have “community” or forum sections where you can share ideas and inspiration with other innovators. Bulbstorm is a useful site that lets you create your own community. You can also create a community on your own company website or use social media tools like Facebook to encourage a community of innovators.
5. Get better at brainstorming. Have your team brainstorming sessions become “blah”? It’s not easy to keep being creative. Check out my prior post from OPEN Forum on 12 tactics to jumpstart your next brainstorming session.
6. Make your invention a reality. If you’ve got an invention you’ve been turning over in your mind, make 2012 the year you really act on it. There are many resources, including the United Inventors Association and InventorSpot, to guide you through the process of creating a prototype, patenting your invention and finding manufacturers and distributors.
7. Use mind-mapping. This visual tactic is a great way to innovate on your own or to capture and generate ideas with a team. Essentially, it means starting with one idea, written in as few words as possible, and adding related ideas in bubbles branching out from the central concept. (Visit MindMapping.com to get the idea). You can get as creative as you want, with different colors or even sketching images instead of words. The key to mind-mapping is that because it’s visual, it engages a different part of our brain than verbal communication does, which encourages us to think in new ways.
8. Read and learn. Whether it’s blogs or books, there are unlimited resources out there to help inspire your innovation and encourage your creativity. Some of the best I’ve found this year include Brainzooming, GoCreate and Innovation Tools’ Innovation Weblog. For three of the best books on creativity I read this year, check out this past post.
9. Post an innovation challenge. Need outside help with a problem facing your business? Whether you’re looking to develop a new product for your customers or create a better solution for handling a particular process in your company, you can post an “innovation challenge” on Ideaken and get responses from people around the world.
10. Encourage innovation in others. I’m not just talking about encouraging your own employees to innovate. To promote innovation in the U.S. and revitalize our business landscape, business owners need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Let your local and national government representatives know that you care about business innovation and urge them to support legislation that will encourage it. Also get involved as a role model to encourage innovation in the next generation. You can get involved in existing organizations or mentor an intern within your own business. If your business is tech- or science-related, it’s especially important that you mentor young people and show them the value of careers in math and science.
11. Develop a system. If you want to encourage repeated innovation in your business, you can’t go about it haphazardly. Experts advise developing an “innovation system” that takes you through repeatable, defined stages, including idea generation, idea assessment and idea management to actually bring the idea to life. Innovation in Practice is a useful blog to help you develop your own innovation system.