In today's marketplace, product life cycles are shrinking, global trade is leading to growing competition and the internet has lowered barriers to entry in many industries. So the need for innovation is more vital than ever.
How can you kick innovation into high gear at your small company? Here are five ideas:
- Swim upstream. Is everyone in your industry doing things the same way? Maybe there's an untapped need others are missing. For instance, one Midwestern grocery chain, Hy-Vee, recently began stocking a special checkout lane with only healthy snacks. It's a smash-hit with health-conscious moms who shop with young children, and the chain is reportedly mulling expanding the idea to 100 stores.
- Face your fear of change. We crave exciting new things as consumers, but as business owners we often fear having to implement new ideas. Create a culture that integrates and celebrates change to spur more innovative initiatives.
- Listen to customers. If you feel short of creative energy, do a focus group or take an online poll. This is a key to many of Procter & Gamble's newer products.
- Add unusual services. You don't have to be an inventor to be innovative -- just add a service that isn't traditionally offered in your industry. An example is the new Duane Reade flagship store on New York City's Wall Street, which has such amenities as a nail bar, juice bar, sushi bar, no-appointment doctor, cell-phone charging station and electronic stock-exchange ticker.
- Get behind your idea. Don't be like Kodak, sitting on your digital camera invention until competitors eat your lunch. Once you've got an innovative idea, put it out there and promote it with all you've got.
How do you drive innovation at your small business? Leave a comment and tell us how you make it happen.