What’s New is Old Again Really, Really Soon
I know someone that still thinks the VCR is the greatest thing since the invention of the 8-track, so it’s safe to say I wouldn’t put her in the innovator category. One of the key qualities of innovators is that they are never enamored by something “new” for very long. They are always looking for the next way to build upon or replace an existing technology or service. Innovators know that something new they offer to their customers can become commonplace very quickly.
Far too often, I witness the “set it and forget it” attitude among online retailers. They will invest in a fancy new re-design or some cool features, but proceed to let them collect dust for a few years. This happens when the business owner is too accustomed to what has then become familiar. If it worked before, they reason, it should be just fine going forward. Most of the tired websites we see every day were once brand-new and perhaps even innovative for their time. Best practices for usability and design are always evolving along with new technologies available, so it’s important to keep up-to-date.
Inspiration Begins With Your Customers
If you’re experiencing a case of entrepreneurial inertia, one way to jump-start the innovation engine is to forget about your own preferences and focus on your customers’ wants and needs. As business-owners, sometimes we are so focused on the day-to-day aspects that we avoid zeroing in on connecting with our customers on an emotional level. The more you strategize on creating new and interactive environments for your customers to shop, the more they’ll reward you with their dollars.
Selfishness will absolutely kill creativity and innovation. If you’re focused on how much time and money you’ll save by not embracing new ways to serve your customers, then you’re missing the point of being in business. We’re here for them. When we wake up every day dreaming of how to more effectively serve others, that’s when we will experience innovation firing on all cylinders.
Don't Be Afraid to Fail
There is no guarantee that your innovative efforts are going to work. Sometimes they will sputter and fail. That alone would be enough to convince many that it’s best to keep your head down and not take any costly chances. Smoking piles of bad-idea debris can obscure the reality that right around the corner is a better idea that could revolutionize the way you do business. Sometimes the bad ideas can actually help inform the good ideas by alerting you towards what not to do.
However, we are often too quick to label something a “bad idea.” The minute we encounter resistance to an idea, we can give up on it without seeing it through. Some ideas require maturing and sharpening in order to realize their true potential. I see this happen in the areas of social media and other forms of marketing all the time, for example. If it doesn’t produce a measurable return immediately, it’s quickly abandoned. Instead of kicking it to the curb, why not take a step back and analyze if the execution could have been handled better?
Prepare to be Copied, and Copied, and Copied…
Whenever innovation lights a fire under your customers, it will invariably attract the moths of competition. Nothing will frustrate an innovator more than when they find their thoughtful efforts being copied. Don’t let it get you down. When your competitors copy you, it only makes the original look better. They won’t overtake your lead because you’re the innovator and they’re playing catch-up.
But you’re not off the hook. If someone can copy what you do, find another way to do it. Remember, innovation is about constantly evolving and growing. The only way a competitor will ever overtake you is when you stop being innovative and start standing still. Keep running!
You Gotta Know What You Don’t Know
Innovation doesn’t just burst out of some mysterious, creative happy-place. The most innovative ideas come out of a synergy between creativity and strategy. I’ve beat the creative drum enough here, so I’ll focus on strategy. I am a firm believer in doing your homework. Innovators are life-long learners. They love to dig into things they’re not inherently familiar with, because they know that’s where they’ll likely discover an inspirational path leading to a brand new idea. Innovators study everyone and everything around them, looking for idea-gems they can make their own.
I look at strategy as a strong gate that helps corral the wild horses of creativity. Without strategy, creativity does not have any real focus. There are a lot of creative types that buck the idea of limitations, but they are most likely not in business for themselves. You have to dominate both the creative and strategic sides of your business persona in order to produce innovative results.
Get with the “In-Crowd”
If you want to be more innovative, hang around people that want the same thing. Nothing will smash the spirit of innovation faster than surrounding yourself with people that are satisfied with the status-quo. Shorten “innovation” to just “in” and insist on hanging out with the “In Crowd”! The In Crowd isn’t an easy group to be part of; they will challenge you and oftentimes make you feel uncomfortable. This is just a sign of your status-quo self fighting for survival, but be content in letting it die. There’s new life for you and your business on the innovative horizon.
I hope these thoughts have inspired you to become more innovative in your business. This is what I practice for myself, so I’m right in the boat with you. Let me know if you find any of the tips useful!