Ever found yourself scrambling for pen and paper after being struck by a clever new business idea? It's fair to say that entrepreneurs benefit from a creative mind - and that the greatest success comes to those who are most willing to take risks and go beyond the status quo - but just how innovative does one have to be in order to build a successful business?
Short answer: it depends.
It depends on the industry, geography, competitors, customers and most importantly, it depends on yourself.
Industry matters. Some industries lend themselves to innovative business, others do not. E-commerce or other web-based business is a great place to explore your innovative side. You've probably heard the stories of how today's tech giants got to where they are today, often by being the first to create a new technology (or more often, being the first to refine a new technology, see: Facebook vs. Myspace, why Netscape is dead, or why technology companies fail/succeed) - but how often do we hear of innovative accountants, dentists or safety inspectors (unless they've done something wrong)? Depending on your profession, or the industry your business operates within, there may exist a strict code of conduct, or professional expectations that limit the extent of innovative practices. If your business is indeed heavily regulated, innovation may be better channeled into marketing campaigns, a unique organizational culture or advancement of the profession / industry.
Geography also matters. Opening a new bookshop? Depending where you choose to open shop, you might be entering a very busy competitive landscape, where you will need to do something to make your business stand out (enter innovation!), or you may be the only competitor by default. It should be noted, however, that with the growth of online retailing, just being the only physical store in town no longer guarantees that you're the only choice for customers. Alternatively, you may have been the only store of your kind for many years, but are now being faced with new competitors who are now taking away from your share of the market. This might be another situation where business owners have little choice but to innovate new services, business environment, pricing or products, to remain competitive.
Customers can also dictate the need for innovation. Consumer tastes and preferences rarely stay the same, and to remain successful in business for the long haul, you may have to adapt and innovate. You may be the #1 chocolate chip cookie maker in the province, but how many customers are you losing out on if you're not offering gluten less / soy / peanut-free alternatives?
Lastly, you matter. As a business owner, you stand to gain the most from successful business innovation. You also, naturally, stand to lose the most when it does not work out as planned. You're personal tolerance for risk is an important factor. Innovation usually involves a certain level of risk - a willingness to try the unknown or unproven. Some people are more comfortable moving their business in new directions, others would prefer things to stay the same (the 'if it ain't broke - don't fix it' mindset).
Even if you don't plan or strategize for great innovations, new directions and opportunities may still present themselves to you and your business. Remember, even the craziest of business ideas (the 10 craziest startup ideas of all time) have gone on to become industry giants - and if you find the right audience for your idea, you're likely to find that innovation can be financially rewarding.
Here are just a few ways that businesses can innovate:
- New ways to get your products to your clients
- A new design to respond to customer demands
- Improved use of technology to update your ordering processes and improve interaction with suppliers and customers
- A more efficient plant layout to lower your production turnaround time
- The design of products that meet green standards
- An increase in your product or service range to reach more targeted customers
- A new concept or a new way of doing business
- The business case
If you want to read more, try browsing a few of the articles/websites listed here for ideas and information:
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo Window to the Soul created by Vermin Inc. on August 22, 2008, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Last viewed on Nov 22, 2010.