The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers the following definition for innovation: the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods.
But many people would use this definition for innovation: difficult, deflating and humbling. Many businesses I have come to know are very commodity-like, finding it difficult to switch from running the day-to-day to be “innovative.”
I suggest these methods to facilitate different ways to think about innovation, remembering that it can start with your organization’s existing products or processes.
- Business owners need to change the way they look at failure. One of my favorite thinkers is Jim Collins, author of many books including Good to Great, who says, “The opposite of success is not failure but growth.” What he means is that if you fail, as long as you learn something, you have not lost.People need to get more comfortable with missing the outcome they wanted and then with what they have learned, revise and retest the new idea. Go where you can afford to fail. Start with low-impact trials by shooting bullets before cannonballs.
- Business owners need to get comfortable with not getting bogged down in excessive study before launching new ideas (“paralysis analysis”). Innovation does not happen through excessive planning. Resistance to innovation comes from excessive planning. The key is to keep launching new ideas and get real-time feedback. One needs to take multiple shots on goal in order to score.
- Create a culture within your organization where employees and managers feel like something is at risk. I am not suggesting people need to fear for their jobs, but innovation often happens early in the life cycle of a business out of necessity to survive. Innovation needs to happen early so that a company can grow to fulfill the vision of the founder(s).On the other end of the spectrum, an established business at risk of bankruptcy may use innovation as a last straw to change the destiny of the business so that it may once again become relevant.For those businesses in between, innovation must be cultivated and encouraged throughout the entire organization by the leadership.
- Lastly, get out of the office and even the city to see what is going on in the wider world. Reach out to people in and out of your industry to ask questions and learn new ideas. You will be surprised how many people will be willing to give time and advice. My own organization, Evolution Capital Partners, has benefitted tremendously with this type of effort. Keep an open mind, ideas can come from anyone, even customers.
Innovation is not a pretty process like in the movies. It requires a lot of trial and error. All learning is developmental. With innovation, there is no way to avoid the failure cycle, so the secret to success is to speed up the cycle and learn faster.
Jeffrey Kadlic is co-founder and managing partner of Evolution Capital Partners LLC, a private equity fund investing growth equity nationwide in Second Stage Companies. Jeffrey is an alumnus of Crain’s Forty under 40 and an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ finalist.