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How do you innovate as a small business?

How do you innovate as a small business?

Posted 06th June, 2019 by William

There are so many quotes about innovation on the internet that you could graffiti the Wall of China with them and still run out of space.

Steve Jobs once said that innovation separates a leader from a follower. He also described innovation as the ability to see change as an opportunity rather than a threat. Others have called it the change that unlocks new value.

But what does this all really mean?

Innovation may be easy to describe but it’s not quite so easy to accomplish. There’s no user manual when it comes to discovering how to come up with new ideas or ways of working.

For this blog, we’ve combed through the literature to find some of the most useful tips on how to innovate around today.

Consider the ten types of innovation

According to the 10 Types of Innovation, creating new products is only one way to innovate and, on its own, it provides the lowest return on investment for companies.

This model suggests that if companies want to do something new, they need to look at 10 distinct areas of their business. In particular, they should re-assess how they:

  • Make money
  • Connect with others
  • Organise talent and assets
  • Establish the methods they use for BAU (Business As Usual)
  • Develop distinguishing features in their products
  • Create complementary products
  • Support and amplify the value of their offerings
  • Deliver their offering to customers
  • Represent their offerings to customers
  • Foster compelling interactions with customers

Establish bridges to creativity in your business

The Creative Problem Solving approach advises that companies can set up ‘bridges’ to facilitate innovation. Firstly, it suggests that language plays a key role in the generation of ideas, and that anyone involved in the generation process should avoid using the word ‘but’ and replace it with ‘yes and’ responses.

The CPS approach also encourages brainstormers to suspend judgements and maintain openness to ideas. Anyone involved in the brainstorming process should also allow ideas to incubate following sessions, giving the brains involved an opportunity to work ‘out of awareness’ on concepts.

What’s more, the CPS also advocates that companies separate divergent thinking from convergent thinking. Divergent thinking refers to the creation of lots of ideas, ideally 50 ideas in seven minutes for groups, while convergent thinking refers to the evaluation of ideas and options in making decisions. Instead, these two types of thinking should take place at completely different times and in different spaces.

Tap into the 40 Principles of Invention

In the middle of the 1940s, inventor Genrich Altshuller analysed thousands of inventions across multiple fields to look for patterns that defined the nature of inventive solutions.

During his research, he made two major findings. Firstly, that most problems that required inventive solutions involved a trade-off between two contradictory elements – for example, “If we want more acceleration, we need a larger engine; but that will increase the cost of the car." Secondly, he found that the same sorts of problems and solutions existed across industries and sciences.

As a result of his work, Altshuller created his 40 Principles of Invention framework – a list of common types of solution that could be used to solve problems across industries and sectors. Examples of these 40 principles include options like segmentation, taking out an element, merging, inversion and periodic action.

Of course, many of these solutions were created by observing inventions in manufacturing, engineering and technology. However, it can’t hurt to take a little look at them when you’re lacking inspiration for innovative ways to tackle a problem within your own business.

Embrace open innovation

The term ‘open innovation’ was officially coined by Henry Chesbrough at the start of the 21st century, when the professor published his book Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology.

Essentially, the concept of open innovation boils down to the fact that innovation should not take place in silos. In fact, it shouldn’t even happen within the walls of a single company. To achieve true innovation, businesses need to work and co-operate with third parties, including suppliers, researchers, universities, end-users and even competitors in some cases.

Even the in-house stage of the brainstorming process should be open – invite the maintenance or the canteen team to meetings and you’ll benefit from a fresh perspective on issues.

Richard Branson is an avid believer in open innovation. He says: “Innovation is for everyone, and often the best ideas come from those that are working on the frontline, who have the most experience with the products or services.”

Turn to biomimicry

The idea behind biomimicry is that every design idea can take inspiration from nature and truths such as the fact that nature:

  • Runs on sunlight
  • Only uses the energy it needs
  • Fits form to function
  • Recycles everything
  • Rewards co-operation
  • Banks on diversity
  • Demands local expertise
  • Curbs excess from within
  • Taps the power of limits

If all this sounds a little abstract, it doesn’t have to be. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that nature can be used as a model, standard of measure and mentor when it comes to the design process of almost anything.

To help designers and idea makers harness the above, natural science writer Janine Benyus created the Biomimicry Design Lens – a collection of diagrams that visually represent the foundations of the biomimicry design approach.

It costs $45 to train up on how to use the design lens. However, if you simply want an insight into the method, you can watch a series of videos by Janine online, including ‘Did you know the Eiffel Tower was inspired by a femur’, ‘How a dog inspired Velcro and a bat inspired radar’ and ‘What termites can teach us about skyscraper design’.

Categories: Tips, Small Businesses

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