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innovation lessons for small business owners

Innovation lessons for small business owners

I am often engaged to speak about innovation and strategy… not in an academic sort of way, people want to know how I took an idea and turned it into reality. One thing (unfortunately) that we do know is that most start-up businesses never reach the heights that match the dreams of the founders…yet others are a run-away successes. I’m not yet putting my enterprises in the category of ‘runiaway’ successes – but we are managing to serve many customers, grow, and have a good time while we are doing it. So, we are getting something right.

RedBalloon is now a sixteen-year journey for me. There is an independent leadership team and I don’t have an operational role. What I do reflect on is the evolution of a business, it’s brand presence and how the processes have changed over time – even though it is still a relatively small business. My gung-ho ‘let’s ship’ attitude was not sustainable to build a robust enterprise.

The bigger a business becomes the less it tends to take risks and try new ideas, and its speed to execute takes longer – however, being responsible and having systems and processes does not mean that innovation diminishes., HR the software as a service business, which has a small and agile team, tries new things, listens to customers intently and makes changes at the speed of light.

I reflect on why is it that the smaller the business, the more nimble and innovative it is. I note that there are some key elements that are critical to maintaining the sense of urgency, pragmatism and change that are needed to drive an innovation culture and execute on strategy.

The first thing is when you see a problem – rather than seeing it as a problem and something to interrupt the business of business, to see it as an opportunity to improve and change. Ask yourself; is there a way to solve this problem forever? In another word, if you fix this ‘one thing’ will life become easier, better or faster?

The seven traits of an innovator

Perhaps you can look at the human behaviours that sit behind innovation. Ask yourself are you a:

1. Visionary;
do you operate with a sense of purpose knowing the overall direction that you (and your business) are heading. Innovation often comes from connecting a problem to the overall purpose or strategy of the enterprise.

2. Curious; you challenge status quo, how things are done and you ask a lot of questions. “Why” is one of those words that you use regularly. You read a lot, and learn as much as you can – you have a thirst for knowledge.

3. Persistent; if the problem seems hard, or unresolvable, you don’t give in. You are a dog with a bone not wanting to let it up. You ask yourself, “what will it take to fix this thing?” You know that real change takes consistent effort and energy.

4. Adaptable; you might be persistent and stick with things, but you are also listening, learning and adapting. Your way is not the right way – you are gathering other people’s insights, being flexible and open-minded.

5. Risk Taker;
you have given up your fear of taking risks and ‘putting yourself’ out there… you know that part of ‘success’ is the ability to fail, pick yourself up and keep going. You learn from your mistakes and you discover the cost, benefit return on failing. You are willing to give it a ‘crack’ repeatedly.

6. Positive; you do believe that the world could be a slightly better place because of the work you do. You want to improve and are continually optimistic about the potential outcomes of your innovation. You are not a perfectionist and know that the world is not perfect, you are able to say ‘this is enough’ to test the concept or produce a minimal viable product (concept) to get in front of others to get their insights.

7. Woo; you have a natural ability to sell in your ideas and bring others with you on the journey. You are strong emotionally and don’t fear rejection – you know that as a trail blazer you will often be out there in front on your own. But you love it, you thrive on bringing other people along the way… you have an ability to woo people (Win Others Over) with your natural enthusiasm for your project.

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