The Common Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make With Innovation
Posted on April 26, 2012
In 1912, Walter H. Deubner, a small grocer in St. Paul, Minnesota was searching for a way to grow his business. He noticed that his customer’s purchases were limited by what they could easily carry. So he decided to design a way for customers to purchase more items at one time.
It took him almost 4 years to create a solution: a prefabricated paper bag that was easy to use and strong enough to carry up to 75 pounds of groceries. Within 3 years, the company was selling more than a million shopping bags a year.
But here’s the thing: Walter didn’t invent the Deubner Shopping bag. The difference between innovation and invention is that innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.
And contrary to popular belief, innovations don’t occur in a “light bulb” moment. There is a specific methodology for innovation that world leaders use.
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So what do these bright minds know that most people don’t? Well, here are 5 common mistakes entrepreneurs make when it comes to innovation:
1. Failing To Ask Questions
If you ask focused questions and listen carefully, employees, customers, suppliers, and even your competitors can provide insight and inspiration. Here are a few ideas on how to do that:
- Spend time observing. Most entrepreneurs are so busy building their products, they never took the time Walter did, observing their customers in real life.
- Look at what your competitors are doing. There’s a good chance you can improve on what they are doing simply because you have a fresh pair of eyes on the matter.
- Conduct surveys of both your employees and your customers. Surveying is a tried and true method but most companies never got it right. Surveys need to be conducted, analyzed and implemented in a timely manner.
Imagine launching a campaign and analyzing surveys one year later – which many companies do, by the way.
2. Lack of Courage
No innovation that changed the world succeeds the first around. Read that again.
If your idea doesn’t work the first time, know that it may work in ways you never expected. Post-It Notes, for example, was attempting to manufacture a new, super strong glue. The formula failed, but the failed product was converted to a successful adhesive that became phenomenal success of Post-It Notes.
Have too much to risk it? Here are two things you can do:
- Work on the innovative project on the side, as a hobby. And if it turns out to be successful, you can then promote it as a full-on project.
- Run a small scale version of the project, with barebones functionality. All you want at this point is get a feel of the reaction. Almost all innovations start like this. Think of Facebook when it first launched.
3. Lack of Commitment
Often business owners have, what could be a great idea, but they set it aside to deal with the daily grind of operating their business. They believed that coming up with a new idea to improve their business is the hard part. Wrong!
If anything, that’s the easy part. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The difference between a great idea and an idea that skyrockets your business is implementation. Walter spent 4 years to do that.
But in the time meantime, he didn’t abandon other parts of his business. He started the project on the side and he started small – part of the reason why is because small projects require small commitment, and therefore have a higher chance of lasting through difficult times.
Too frequently executives and business owners become satisfied with the status quo. Why worry or risk profits trying to “reinvent the wheel”? It’s a problem called complacency.
All innovations originates for an unquenchable thirst to do things better. And once the leader – you – becomes satisfied with the way things are, it’s almost impossible to innovate. Why?
Because innovating is a painful process. It involves changing the way things work, endless hours of implementation and continuously adjusting and improving the new product.
Ask yourself this simple question: would you go through all that if you’re happy with the way things are?
5. Restrictive Thinking
All rules come with an exception, we teach in our business management courses. Making business decisions based on numbers is a great practice, but even then, not all decisions CAN be made based on numbers.
If the available market research does not validate the endeavor, many business owners reject the idea as unworkable. This kind of restrictive thinking results in the death of many fine ideas.
Steve Jobs, for example, is famous for making minute changes to the details of all Apple products. He’s also famous for insisting on using the best materials only. Could he have told the impact of all those individual changes on the bottom line? Absolutely not. Yet those changes, despite costing Apple millions of dollars and months of delay, got implemented. Steve Jobs knew, intuitively, that these things matter, even if they couldn’t tell yet.
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