Managing cash flow, hiring new employees, delivering top quality customer service, these and many others, occupy the minds of small business owners.
Innovate? That is number 50 on the To Do list, when headspace allows. Yet innovation, creating value out of ideas that are new to you – is the only way to ensure you are relevant for every stage of your company’s growth.
Innovation is not just about big, new ideas – or radical technologies, you can innovate in your day-to-day work on smaller things and see a huge amount of value creation. But how do you make innovation a systematic way of working?
Here is a six-stage process, which I call the 6 ‘I’s® of Innovation, to help you think things through;
Get curious and IDENTIFY where there could be an opportunity to do something new for the immediate term (now), the short term (next few months) and the long term (the end of the year/next year).
Key Questions to ask yourself:
- Where are there quick wins to create more efficiency and productivity in my current ways of doing business?
- What process could I do differently that will save me time or money?
- What customer group is emerging for us right now?
- How could I repurpose what I already have to create a new offering for a market that I am not yet serving?
- What are the big changes that are coming on the horizon for my business that could shift how things operate today?
- What will be the implications for me in the longer term?
Write down your thoughts and think through why things need to change. For each, what is the problem you are trying to solve?
What would be the PURPOSE of exploring these opportunities? Ask yourself why, five times. What do you hope to create?
Take your short-term opportunity and get creative. IGNITE ideas for the opportunities you have identified.
Pick a core business process. Write down, or draw, how it currently works, who is involved and the needs of your customers and staff.
What is working well? Reinforce it. What isn’t working well? Ask a customer or staff member for their inputs. Challenge your assumptions and see with a fresh perspective. What new ideas did it spark?
Get critical. Stand back and INVESTIGATE. How feasible you think these changes could be? Don’t throw out an idea just because it may be difficult.
INVESTIGATE your ideas with potential customers, stakeholders or others who have a direct involvement with the process. Try out new ideas.
Be courageous. INVEST time and effort.
Draw up a grid. On one axis write potential benefits, on the other the other write potential costs. Think through the ideas and assess which ones are going to deliver the most value for the least cost.
If it has high benefit and low cost do it, if it has high benefit but high cost, explore how you could make it work, it might save you time and money in the long run. Take a calculated risk.
Move into action. IMPLEMENT. Stay committed. Pick one easy idea and one harder one. Work out a plan to IMPLEMENT the new ideas. Ask,
- Who do you need to help you?
- What expertise is required?
- What can you outsource, delegate or let go of?
Be lean and prioritise. Don’t mistake being busy with being productive. Work out a way to track your plan.
Be clever. What has the innovation process taught you?
Create a feedback mechanism to involve your customers and your staff and gather their inputs. Ask yourself;
- How have things changed?
- What has been the impact on them and the business?
- How could you IMPROVE on what you have done?
- What would you do differently next time?
Finally, revisit your original PURPOSE.
- Were your new ideas in line with your PURPOSE?
- What value have you created?
- Did it generate what you envisaged in your mind?
- If not, why not?
Evaluate and learn.
Don’t be in danger of only focusing on what is in the present, at the expense of the mid or the long term. Innovation management is a business process like any other, it needs clear thinking, and a clear process on how to generate new ideas and make them work.
Think too about where your own strengths are across each of the 6 ‘I’s®. Are you a natural IDENTIFIER or IGNITER or are you more drawn to IMPLEMENTATION and IMPROVEMENT? Or a mix?
Innovation is a team sport, involve your staff and customers as well as suppliers and partners, or if you are an entrepreneur, build strong partnerships, they are vital to success.
Use the 6 ‘I’s® to help you think through the opportunities you have IDENTIFIED for the mid and short term. Write up a plan and don’t let urgent day-to-day demands crowd out strategic focus for the future. You want to stay relevant, responsive and ready for change.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by keynote speaker, writer and inventor of the 6 ‘I’s® of Innovation, Natalie Turner. Her new book, ‘Yes, You Can Innovate. Discover your innovation strengths and develop your creative potential’ includes a free 6 ‘I’s® profile. Find out more at YesYouCanInnovate.com.
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