Encouraging innovation in your business

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Last updated on June 23, 2014

Innovation is the process of developing new things. In business, the term often refers to the commercialisation of new ideas, inventions, products, designs and resources.

Competitive benefits from innovation include:

  • improved quality
  • greater customer satisfaction
  • extended product or service range
  • increased profits
  • reduced costs
  • improved production techniques.

An innovative business owner is always on the lookout for:
  • new and/or better products and services
  • more efficient processes
  • new ways of delivering services
  • other innovative strategies to put them ahead of their competition.

One of the best ways to gain fresh perspectives on your business and to identify opportunities for improvement is to ask questions. On a regular basis, think about each product or service you offer and consider how you could:
  • make it safer
  • make it cleaner
  • make it slower or faster
  • make it more convenient to use
  • make it easier to package, store or transport
  • make it less expensive to replace, repair or re-use
  • make it easier to clean or maintain
  • make it less noisy
  • add new features
  • improve its design
  • make it more attractive and appealing
  • reduce labour costs
  • minimise the cost of materials
  • improve its availability or distribution
  • improve its promotion.

Innovation isn’t just about ad-hoc ideas and one-off improvements. You can foster an innovative culture in your business to encourage a continuous flow of fresh ideas. The following tips will help get you started:

Provide top-down support

  • Let your team know that you expect innovation.
  • Make sure you and your employees don’t put innovative ideas in the too-hard basket or on the backburner without a good reason.
  • Build a business culture that supports risk-taking and questioning.
Reduce resistance to change
  • Identify and make the need for change well-known throughout the business.
  • Create ownership of change by involving employees in planning and implementation processes.
  • Have genuine regard for the concerns and possible resistance of your employees.
  • Monitor the effects of change.
Encourage improvements in your business
  • Make it known that suggestions or ideas for even minor change are welcome – many small innovations can have a positive cumulative effect on productivity and often carry less risk.
  • Be prepared to listen to all suggestions and ideas.
Link innovation approaches to the SWOT analysis in your business plan
  • Use identified opportunities to point the way to new products, services or markets.
  • Develop solutions to minimise the impact of weaknesses.
Identify problems and creative solutions
  • Encourage an active awareness and recognition of problems as opportunities.
Encourage experimental attitudes
  • Develop a business environment which experiments with new ideas.
  • Recognise contributions made by employees at all levels, whether or not the suggestion is adopted.
  • Identify appropriate financial and non-financial rewards.
Tolerate failure
  • Accept that time and resources will be invested in experimenting with new ideas that will not work.
  • Avoid assigning blame and penalising employees.
Promote the role of innovation ‘champion’
  • Wherever possible, give the creator of the innovation project the responsibility and authority for leading and coordinating its development.
Create an open, decentralised organisational structure
  • Encourage open channels of communication.
  • Encourage people to be open-minded. Many good ideas are killed off by early ridicule.
  • Encourage contact with outside sources.
Follow up on ideas from customers and suppliers
  • Talk over problems and issues with customers with a view to sourcing new ideas.
  • Talk to suppliers to help identify sources of complaints that can lead to improvements in operations.
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