Month: January 2016

Questioning Your Business Innovation

My friend and fellow motivational speaker (I could also include “Seattle business legend” and “self made millionaire”) Sunny Kobe Cook has an interesting theory, and one with which I agree:

“Being innovative in business usually starts with a question.”

A sking a question is one of the best ways to spark creativity and innovation, either individually or within a team. Why? Because our brains will try their best to answer whatever question(s) we put to them. And since it’s estimated that 72% of Americans have functioning brains (that percentage rises if you exclude Congress), the odds are that you and your team have functioning brains which will in turn try to answer the questions you put to them.

So, what kind of questions should you be asking? If innovation is your goal, you need to be asking open ended questions. Here are some of my favorites:

How?

How can we increase our customer base while keeping our existing customers?

How can we surprise and delight our clients so that they’ll become not just clients, but real fans?

How can we increase job satisfaction, and therefore reduce turnover, without hurting our bottom line?

How would the industry leader (or our biggest competitor) solve this problem?

Why?

Why do our customers really buy from us?

Why are we losing market share?

Why is our workday 9 to 5?

Why would somebody buy from our competitor instead of from us?

And my favorite:

What if?

What if we eliminated our hierarchical corporate structure?

What if we stayed open until 11pm?

What if we painted the conference room green or blue (studies show that green and blue boost creativity)?

What if our major supplier went out of business tomorrow?

Note that these are not earth-shatteringly innovative questions. In fact, they’re the kind of questions that every business should be asking itself. But they’ll still get the brain working. Sunny suggests picking one primary question per quarter, and asking it repeatedly. Ask it of your team, your vendors, your friends in non-related businesses. Ask it at your team meeting, and then tell your team that you’ll be asking it again at the nextteam meeting so they can give it some thought.

Innovation Is the Key for Small Businesses

Innovation Is the Key for Small BusinessesInnovation is a key element of any business, large or small. Yet, many tend to think of innovation as only the application of new technologies and application of research and development. Doing things differently, a better and more cost efficient way is what innovation in small business can be. So what does it mean by innovation in small business?

Drucker (1985) defined innovation as ‘the means by which the entrepreneur creates new wealth producing resources or endows existing resources with enhanced potential for creating wealth’. It means companies implement a series of changes to gain a competitive edge over their rivals and the market, as well as increase revenues through these innovations. Before embarking on innovation, small businesses should have the capacity to access new information and turn it into knowledge, and create procedures and resources to apply the knowledge for making use of opportunities.

Innovation in small business must be looked upon as a process that transcends all components of a business. Changing one thing and hoping that the other parts stay the same is expecting the impossible, because innovation brings change throughout the organization. It means human resources, operations, accounts, sales and all other key elements in an organization. It can be difficult to implement innovative practice in small business as most of these processes are done by the business owner/managers. But it is not impossible.

There are six stages to the implementation of innovation.

  1. Defining the strategic intent.
  2. Searching for ideas and pathways.
  3. Mapping the development process.
  4. Application of decision-making processes.
  5. Implementation of the decision.
  6. Reviewing to learn.

Usually the process of innovating is limited to the business manager doing it unconsciously, seeking a better way to do things or make more money. However, if the innovation process is implemented formally, it has a better chance of being successful.

What can you do to begin making innovation a part of your small business strategy? Demystify innovation and what it means to the business, understanding how it can affect and enhance your business. Hire a technical advisor or someone who is a specialist within the field your business is in. This will provide the necessary guidance on any radical new technologies you otherwise wouldn’t be able to implement formally through research and development. Identify industries and fellow entrepreneurs who are like-minded and seek innovation as key component to the development and sustainability of their businesses. Network with them and see how working relationships can benefit each other while helping your organization grow and exploit opportunities usually can’t be achieved on your own.

The SmartBusiness.Today platform is providing the necessary tools for your startup to launch and grow faster.

Smart Business is a service platform, a fast-growing Kuala Lumpur Based online service provider that helps entrepreneurs and small business owners build their online presence and audience without costing them an arm and a leg.

Our goal is to create a user-centered experience that enables entrepreneurs to build their business faster and scale more easily. We’re committed to building a product that is not only used by thousands of people, but loved by them, too.

Innovation In Business Not Doing the Same Thing Over and Over

Innovation In Business is all about not doing the same thing over and over… it sounds self-explanatory, right? But then why are organisations getting it so wrong, over and over?!

We’re Already In ‘The Future’

Business today isn’t simply changing- it has already changed. We’re already deep into an era of phenomenal and unpredictable commercial growth and evolution: segments are progressing, markets are fragmenting, demographics are blurring, consumers are vastly complicated, unique and extremely well informed, people are incredibly well connected, social media is soaring and all industries are shifting at exponential rates.

In not-so-rare-anymore examples, the change in an industry is so incredible that it almost never could’ve been imagined only a short year or so before. Take the whole Freemium model as an example, where products are no longer simply ‘paid for and owned’ anymore, but acquired for free and then compensated for with more creative, alternative ways. There are innovative organisation models in effect today, such as crowd sourcing content, skillshare, conscious consumerism amongst countless others, which are surviving successfully despite experts claiming that failure was inevitable.

As a result of this phenomenal era, big organisations accustomed to “same-same smooth-sailing” are under great threat, sometimes without even knowing it. They’re failing to grasp the seriousness and the complexity of this new age of rapid transformation; and not surprisingly too, given the diversity of the changes and the time frame it’s doing it in. However, complacency is not an excuse, especially if reputation, profitability and employment and are on the line.

With the surge of social media, big data and the internet, barriers to competitive entry have been filed down significantly, if not diminished almost completely in some cases. Smart competitors and challenger organisations are literally devoting their entire resource bank to picking holes in the ways things are being traditionally done, developing a new, different method, entering the market and then turning the entire product on its head within very short spaces of time, removing the rug from all other stake holders. By the same token, new and exciting opportunities present themselves constantly, sometimes in odd or unpredictable ways, just waiting for the right organisation to seize it and take full advantage for amazing success.

So, Where’s The Problem Lie?

Innovation isn’t taken seriously. Its value is often underestimated and too difficult to predict or document. The blinkered financial outlook at the helm of a business cannot assign a monetary figure on the concept, and so its lack of tangibility means it’s ignored or seen as “something fun and sparkly that the Marketing department is up to again.” Despite the countless examples of organisations that have greatly suffered due to lack of creative thinking and therefore their competitive edge (Kodak, Blockbuster, Borders, Dell, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toys’R’Us, Yahoo… do I need to go on?), most businesses seem to think that it will never happen to them. They believe that everything will remain as certain and predictable as they always have. Yet, they fail to see the water draining from beneath their soap bubble of ignorance.

Well established companies can often recognise the concept of ‘innovation’, but believe it to be a novel or interesting concept, and therefore fail to take it at all seriously. And the ones that do understand its importance still put it as a back-burner, rainy day project rather than an engrained culture or built into the organisational strategy. Even more alarming, most organisations when asked about how they perform innovatively, are so convinced that they are doing so and ‘moving with the times’ that they’re fooling themselves into believing they are. How can you truly act innovatively if you think your lacklustre attempt is enough?

Ironically, organisations which actively attempt to practise ‘innovative thinking’ have methodical processes, rules and guidelines to facilitate new ideas, and so, fresh new concepts and the trailing of new methods which could inevitably save an organisation in the future, are snuffed out by the very processes set in place to encourage them.

Innovation is the key to mere commercial survival in such an era as we have now, let alone success; write this down and plaster it on the walls in your office. While tried and tested methods do have their place- this cannot be discounted- they can (and should) no longer be just relied upon. Innovation and new ways of thinking must be embraced and encouraged by all organisations if they truly wish to continue to operate competitively into the future. Creative ideas and their application in creating solutions are the essential building blocks of innovation.
Not all innovation is profitable, but all is beneficial.

That’s just get this out of the way. Not all ideas have merit or sprout instant rewards, however at very least, they spur an organisation to engage rather than just exist. It’s far better to be challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries, than performing the same black-and-white task for ten years, and then wondering where all of your customers have gone.

Single ideas that may not have distinction alone can often snowball into other ideas, or be merged with different concepts to eventually create that one gold nugget needed propel an organisation into that winning niche it so desperately needs.

The Marketing Department’s Role In Innovation

Due to the role and the position Marketing plays in an organisation, it’s always a good place to actively participate in innovative thinking and methods. The nature of a solid Marketing strategy encourages flexibility which engenders a healthy breeding ground of fresh thinking and different approaches to old problems. Every day, something new and exciting comes along, and if each opportunity is given value and the Marketing department is empowered to be more adventurous, this is a step in the right direction.

This is not to say that other departments cannot be innovative. In fact, the best type of organisation is one that is flexible at all levels of operation, whether it be the sales department attempting to discover a new point of customer contact, or accounts payable endeavouring to utilise new software to cut down excessive administration time. However, Marketing is emphasised in this context as it is the main area of a business which looks out at the market horizon and must respond to opportunities and threats most frequently within turbulent external environments.

Using Lean StartUp As A Stepping Stone

I believe you just know when you have a killer idea that lots of clients will love and happily pay for – if only they knew it existed.

This article will make life easier for early stage product developers and startups.

Why did I write it? Because I have been involved with seven product developments, and it almost killed me. I would like you to avoid the pitfalls and benefit from what I have learned.

You are probably aware that nine in ten new products fail to meet expectations. I am going to show you how to make ‘The Solution Canvas’ your new best friend to maximise your chance of success while protecting your downside.

Let’s start with what type of product, or solution, you could work on.

In his excellent book “From Zero to One” Peter Thiel introduces two very different kinds of product developments:

– “From Zero to One”: Developing solutions where none exist today. An example is ‘delivering electricity without wires’

– The second option represents 99% of all developments: “From One to N’. This means creating solutions that are enhancements or improvements on already known solutions, i.e. developing a faster, easier and cheaper solution to delivering products from manufacturer to the consumer’s door.

If you are working on your first product, I strongly recommend you consider “From One to N” developments, which The Solution Canvas is ideally suited to help you with.

While our world needs many more “From Zero to One” breakthroughs, unless you have a number of successful developments behind you, you are unlikely to raise the finance, attract the co-creators and goodwill required to successfully undertake the massive change in consumer behaviour required to make your solution a success.

If you feel concerned that by taking a ‘One to N’ development path, you will not benefit from ‘First mover advantage’ please consider the following: ‘What do Apple, Toyota and Google have in common?’ Apart from being massive global brands, they are all Fast Followers.

They have worked out that being a pioneer, bringing new concepts to market hoping to grasp a first mover advantage, is seldom a good idea. Pioneers risk the traditional definition; they are easily recognised by the arrows in their back.

It is much safer and provides a longer-term viable option to find something proven you can further improve and enhance and thereby make it yours.

One of the most common recommendations for people starting out is: “You must know your Ideal Client, and what their buying habits are.”

That is not entirely correct.

Reality is when you start out with a new idea; your Ideal Client is anybody who is willing to pay for it.

The answer to ‘Who is your Ideal Client?’ can never be known in advance. That knowledge you will only gain once clients have purchased your solution, and you can ask them why they bought it.

So, how do you minimise the risks of wasting your resources chasing dreams instead of real opportunities?

Let me introduce you to the Solution Canvas: The Canvas is a single piece of paper with nine blocks that will give you Structure.

Structure to:

– Make it easier to explain your vision and concept

– Maximise the probability of you developing a winning solution

– Protect you against making obvious mistakes

– Attract co-creators

– Attract finance

– Attract Joint Ventures

– Keep your project on track, and

– Provide ongoing updates to stakeholders