When discussing innovation and new ideas, many people like to focus on the “fun” parts—brainstorming, creativity and how to generate ideas. Once the big meeting is over, the white boards are erased and the action items are listed, how do you make sure those big ideas are turned into true innovation for your business? How do you create a system for bringing innovation to life?
Developing a “system” for something supposedly as pure and hard to grasp as innovation may sound anathema, but as any small business owner knows, without a system nothing gets done. Here are six key points to consider that will help ensure your ideas and innovations don’t fall by the wayside, but actually get to market.
Understand the different types of innovations. Your team may come up with ideas that include:
Innovations to existing processes or products within your business that make them better, more efficient or cheaper to produce
Innovations that are add-ons or spinoffs to existing products or services
Innovations that build on ideas already in the marketplace (consider that the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player)
Innovations that are game-changers, bringing something completely new to the marketplace
Consider the risk-reward tradeoff. Every innovation involves risk, some more than others. In most cases, the time, cost and effort required to bring a game-changing idea to fruition will be substantially more than that required to spin off a product for which you already have suppliers, systems and distributors in place. Weigh the cost of developing the innovation against the potential reward. Then focus on a mix of innovations so you’re neither thinking too small nor overtaxing your resources.
Dedicate adequate resources. You hear a lot about how small companies are inherently more innovative, and that may be true in some ways. But small companies can also be hamstrung by a lack of resources (human, time, financial) to make things happen. Don’t develop an innovation unless you have the resources to put behind it. Otherwise, you’re dooming the project to failure.
Provide leadership—not just your own. Leadership needs to come from the top down, and it’s crucial that you support the innovation. But lets face it, you’re also so busy that you’re not necessarily the ideal candidate to drive the project day to day. Choose someone to take ownership of the innovation within the business—someone who has the energy and focus to make sure the team follows through even when the going gets tough.
Balance innovation with day-to-day operations. Innovation always sounds exciting at first, but when reality sets in and the demands of running the business start to compete with the demands of making innovation happen, all too often the innovative project ends up on the back burner; until the flame eventually dies out altogether. The leader’s passion is crucial in keeping the flame burning, but it’s also important to be realistic about how much time and resources can be devoted to innovation. Is 10 percent or 20 percent a realistic goal? Assess the project’s potential ROI to help you weigh the time commitment.
Look for partners. If you don’t have the resources in-house to bring your innovation to life, can you find a strategic partner who could help? Distributors, manufacturers and small business owners in complementary, but not competing, industries can all be potential partners here. Look for someone you can trust and who has skills, assets, connections or capital you lack.
How do you ensure your innovative ideas don’t get forgotten?
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