We are more are half way through our special series of uncovering the secrets of small business success with Donna Fenn. If you’ve missed a post, click back through and read some of her expert insights and interviews with successful small business owners. This month, Donna will dive into ‘Nurturing Your Entrepreneurial Spirit’. Her first article uncovers four steps on how to stay on top of your innovation game to continue cultivating your inner entrepreneur.
Janet – @jzablock
Put On Your Innovator’s Hat
By Donna Fenn, Small Business Author and Expert
Whether you’re a local retailer or CEO of the trendiest new tech startup, you can’t afford not to think like an innovator. Granted, that can be tough when you’re bogged down with the day-to-day details of running your company. But if you don’t keep your creative juices flowing, you’re in danger of stagnation or, worse, extinction. You may not be making innovation a top priority, but you can bet your competitors are. Here are four ways to stay at the top of your innovation game:
- Step outside your industry. “I surround myself with the right people and ask the right questions,” says Justin Brown, CEO of First Global Xpress, a shipping company. “But I don’t speak to people in my industry.” Brown, 34 and a serial entrepreneur, thinks he learns more by talking to smart people in other industries and asking them “how they view the future” so that he can get a fix on supply and demand trends that will direct him toward new opportunities for his own businesses. You might also consider attending trade shows outside your own industry; go with the intention to learn and gain a new perspective.
- Solve real world problems. Innovation doesn’t happen in a void – it occurs when you solve real problems for potentially large numbers of people. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to strive for Apollo 13-level innovation. Look everywhere for pain points and know that small changes can have a big impact. If you need proof, take a look at Quirky. This social product innovation company has ordinary people put innovative spins on products as mundane as dustpans, beach bags, and power strips. The common theme: every new product improves consumers’ lives by solving a common problem.
- Foster a culture of innovation. Every employee at your company should be granted the power, the freedom and the responsibility to be an innovator. That could be as simple as putting up a few white boards for brainstorming, or as formal as Google’s 20% program, which allowed all employees to use 20% of their time on side projects that spark their passions. Sound extravagant? While Google is reportedly winding down the program, consider that Gmail and Google News were 20% projects!
- Don’t be afraid to fail. “Our team likes to say ‘fail fast and fail cheaply,’” says Victor Hwang, CEO of T2 Venture Creation, a venture capital and ecosystem design studio in Silicon Valley. If you don’t have a basic comfort level with failure, you’ll never muster up the chutzpah to take a risk. What’s riskier than failing? Never trying. “You don’t know what’s as the top of the mountain until you’ve been at the bottom of the valley,” says Hwang. He suggests that you surround yourself with a support system of family, friends, and/or peers who are willing to remind you that failure isn’t lethal.
Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.
Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on September 4, 2013 at 9:12 am