As a consumer, you know that nothing stands still. You didn’t buy your new laptop because it was the same as your old one. You know exactly when you can upgrade your smartphone, as well as the new features the next generation will offer.
As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to provide these innovations. If you’re unaware of that, you’re dead.
Just look at Kodak’s failure to adapt. Digital technology was invented by one of its own engineers. But instead of seeing the future potential in the technology, the company perceived it as a threat to film and kept it quiet. Kodak dominated the imaging business until it failed to innovate.
Of course, you started your company with a great idea, but what have you done for it lately? The only way to survive in this hyper-competitive economy is to walk through your front door every morning willing to throw everything out. In short, you have to default to innovation.
As an entrepreneur, your work is never through.
When you innovate, you accept a standard and turn it on its head. It’s about approaching a problem, which may or may not already have a solution, and either creating a new solution entirely or creating a solution that achieves the result in a different manner. Here are some lessons about innovation I’ve learned:
1. You never arrive.
Even the greatest entrepreneurs need to continue innovating once their companies achieve market success. Just think of Steve Jobs. What if he had never driven Apple to innovate beyond desktop computers?
2. You’re always competing.
Even the smallest edge can have a big impact. The only way to stay competitive is to differentiate yourself. Innovation makes your product unique in a consumer’s mind. But once you’ve introduced an innovation, there’s a good chance competitors will adopt it, too. That’s why you have to constantly be one step ahead. Always seek ways to deliver something new and interesting.
3. You have to innovate everything.
We usually think of new products, but you have to examine your business processes, as well. Perhaps your next step is to surround your product with superior customer service. These process innovations may be invisible to your customers, but that’s fine. Time is your most valuable resource. Every innovation that makes you more efficient in one area leaves more time for you to improve upon another. That is how you fund innovation.
When you default to innovation, you’re constantly thinking about how you can improve your product, even if it seems perfect as it is. The trick is to think about your product from a consumer’s perspective. Ask yourself what you’re selling, what needs it serves and what a typical user experience is. These questions need to be reevaluated regularly. The answers are always evolving.
For service businesses, the customer experience is the product. Call your company’s customer service line, and try to resolve an issue. Are all these “press one” options really what customers inquire about? Did the employee you spoke to know what he was talking about? Would you recommend the service? How could you improve the process?
Furthermore, while it’s great to be aware of your competitors, don’t fall into the trap of copying them. If you’re just chasing trends, you’ll watch your customers drift away to your competitors. Innovation is about novelty.
Lastly, one of the biggest killers of innovation is your own success. It doesn’t matter how you’ve always done it, nor does it matter what worked well in the past. If you get locked into your successes, you won’t improve. So get ready to scrap your work to make room for the new.
Never accept anything less than defaulting to innovation. As your company grows, you need to have everyone’s energy, not just yours, pushing new ideas forward. Everyone should be challenging assumptions and questioning the way things are done. This is the gift that keeps on giving.