Oct 5, 2017 | Leadership & Culture

When I ask business owners and managers about innovation, many of them talk about the many ideas they have brewing but they have never pursued.

They’re too busy fighting front-burner issues to think about anything new. But if innovation is going to be a source of new products and revenues, these three words are perfect, from one of the world’s most innovative companies: Just Do It.

Many companies enlist the wider public for innovation, whether through contests, or through customer input and co-creation. Yahoo! pioneered the hackathon (where a large group of people get together to create new ideas for software) in the US a decade ago and it has now become a staple way to do innovation, especially for technology companies.

Customer co-creation is another tool to create innovative ideas. Customers can be involved to identify the problems and assess the prototypes, rather than coming up with the solutions. This way you are understanding what customers need rather than having innovation for innovation’s sake.

The Commonwealth Bank, ranked sixth on the Most Innovative Companies list this year, hosted a public hackathon at the CeBIT conference. Teams worked on an app for the bank’s new Albert terminal for one of three merchants:  Hard Rock Cafe, Culture Kings and Cerebral Palsy Alliance.  A cash prize of $10,000 was awarded to the winning app for each merchant. Nearly 70 developers, including students, start-ups and big consultancies took part.

It’s as simple as that. Innovation is about bringing ideas to market rather than letting them languish on a half-forgotten notepad. And innovation doesn’t necessarily mean invention. More often, it’s about acting on an opportunity you have already recognized, or adapting existing solutions for other markets or industries.

How simple can innovation be? Consider these examples:

Seeing the same thing in a different way:

  • Toy giant Lego has launched a Lego Friends brand to target girls in addition to its dominating “boy brands” such as Star Wars Lego and Lego Ninjago.

Tapping into (or teaming up with) new market trends:

  • Hyundai now provides a multimedia tablet as an owner’s manual instead of the traditional printed book.

Bringing together features from existing products or markets to create something “new”:

  • The maker of SLAP Watch offers a unique twist on silicone watches with interchangeable faces, bright colours, and spring-coil bracelet – all in one item.

The everyday pool man’s story:

John started out in the traditional way, servicing equipment and maintaining pools for residential, commercial and government customers. The pools that were controlled by some of the very large commercial installations were required to maintain strict water quality standards. These customers invested heavily in monitoring technology that ensured the water quality was up to local standards. The rest of John’s pool customers were certainly interested in maintaining pool quality but viewed monitoring technology as far too expensive for them to reasonably deploy.

At a local trade show some time later, John was taken by new technology that would provide remote monitoring services at a much lower cost than the systems deployed in the large pool installations. Recognizing this enabling technology, John developed an entirely new business model for his customers. He purchased a limited number of the devices and then offered monitoring to a group of small to mid-sized pool owners as a service. Overnight, this entrepreneur evolved his business model from a fee-for-service model to a leasing business.

Innovation is the engine that drives your business forward. Think about it: customers are engaged by new and exciting products and services. It gives them something to talk about, a reason to buy again, and more often.

So how do you take the first step in your business? Winning through innovation doesn’t have to be scary, painful or expensive. Business owners and managers can do it step by step. Start by creating an environment in which employees, trusted partners and even customers offer great new product and service ideas. Simply creating a process to examine those ideas and pursue the best of them is the first step in the process of “Innovation”.

  • Be open to experimentation with new business models.
  • Be wary of the curse of too much capital and resist the temptation to throw resources at innovation efforts.
  • Seek advice – utilise available resources, grants and assistance to drive innovation in your business. This may include seeking a mentor to help you gain a clear direction for your business future.

The cost is low, the potential sky-high. It’s better to implement a number of smaller innovations than to have big ideas and do nothing with them.

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