For Small Business, Innovation Comes from Within

For Small Business, Innovation Comes from WithinTo many entrepreneurs, innovation may be a daunting or flat-out frightening concept. Working within an economic landscape that has been less than stable over the past few years, companies are choosing to play it safe rather than create something new.

Business owners often feel an enormous pressure to reinvent the wheel in an attempt to make a name for their companies. They hatch ideas yet fail to truly put their plans into motion. Doubtful of their ability to truly innovate, they psyche themselves out. They tell themselves that they could never be a Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg; they tell themselves that they aren’t geniuses or inventors. They convince themselves that innovation is simply out of their reach.

Thankfully, they’re wrong.

There’s no need for businesses to try to reinvent the wheel. In fact, innovation in the business world often comes from within, as entrepreneurs examine the problems their industries currently face. They look at the current solutions and determine how to make them better. Leaders don’t accept that it’s not possible – they think that it just hasn’t been done yet.

Let’s use Apple as example. Entrepreneurs love to cite Steve Jobs as a major influence, further citing his accomplishments with Apple as a textbook example of innovation in the tech industry. With all of this in mind, however, where did that innovation spark from? Did Apple create the first personal computer? Well, no. Did Apple invent the first .mp3 player? No, although the term “iPod” has become synonymous with just about anything that stores and plays digital music. Did Apple come up with the first tablet? Again, no, yet Apple has managed to dominate the tablet market by shipping over 100 million iPads. What can we learn from all of this?

Apple didn’t reinvent the computer, .mp3 player or tablet. Instead, they reinvented the way we think of them through marketing and advertising. They established iconic, seemingly minimalist commercials and branding that we’ve come to associate with their products. Apple took clunky, ugly machines and gave something sleek and sexy back to the masses.  In short, sometimes the way we present our product is just as important as the product itself.

We may also use Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook as an example of innovation out of the blue. Mark Zuckerberg has become the poster-child for young innovators. With this in mind, however, the social network was around long before Mr. Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004. Sites such as Livejournal, Xanga and Friendster had already established themselves; meanwhile Facebook was up against fierce competition on the form of Myspace during the mid-2000′s social boom.

Facebook’s goal to become a sort-of online yearbook was not much of an innovation as such sites already existed; however, the site’s minimalist nature contrasted greatly with the image-heavy, bogged down social sites of the time. Furthermore, Zuckerberg’s creation managed to prevail due to his initial reluctance to sell ad space, which was seemingly unheard of at the time. Facebook represents yet another example of finding success without reinventing the wheel. The site itself represented social networking in its most basic form; however, its simplicity and exclusivity offers users something new.

Innovation for small businesses does not have to be a massing undertaking. It can be, and perhaps should be done in smaller steps. Rather than putting unnecessary pressure upon ourselves, consider the steps which businesses may take to help encourage innovation.

Innovation Through Presentation – As noted with Apple, the way we present our products and services has huge implications to potential and existing customers. By offering a look or design that’s truly unique, whether through simplicity or complexity, we may offer a new perspective on an existing idea. This is perhaps one of the most accessible avenues of innovation for today’s small businesses.

Innovation Through Service – Customer service matters now more than ever. Businesses that are looking for ways to gain a competitive advantage should simply improve their customer service. Likewise, businesses should strive to find new ways to create a smoother, memorable and positive customer experience. This may best be done going through the customer experience yourself or with others and searching for potential weaknesses. Is there something that your business can offer its customers that your competition cannot?

Innovation from Within – If innovation indeed comes from within, businesses must internally inspire creativity and passion. Think outside the box and then go beyond that. Companies should consider encouraging and rewarding a culture of innovation from within as long as business continues to get done.

Sometimes creating something truly new begins with the old. Of course, sometimes we put it upon ourselves to start from scratch and see where the creative process takes us. Regardless of where businesses begin to innovate, consider small steps and the fact that innovation does not have to come from a genius mind or a brilliant invention. Sometimes it simply comes from within.

image credit: apple.com; facebook.com

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