Innovation is critical to startups. It helps you attract investors, but it also predicts your success. Being able to bring something innovative to the table, whether it’s a product or a service, increases the likelihood that you’ll stand out from the competition and build up a loyal customer base. It also speaks to your ability to adapt and pivot as needed. But what are the steps to encouraging innovation?
As the saying goes, you need to have money to make money, and if you’re struggling to maintain your company on a shoestring budget, you may not be able to afford some of the tools, personnel, or strategies that you need to really move to the next level. While you may be able to attract the eye of investors eventually, in the meantime, you might want to consider taking out a small business loan. A loan can be a great way to create cash flow and allow you the breathing room to experiment with new ways of doing things.
Even if you’re consistently surveying customers and talking to your employees and industry leaders, all things you should be doing, you may notice that people’s actions don’t always match their words. Pay attention not just to what people say but how they act. Even customers who seem certain of what they do and don’t want may show behavior that suggests something else. If you want to be innovative, you need to be in a continual process of reevaluating and questioning assumptions, digging beneath the surface to find out how you can better provide for the needs of your customers and get the best out of your staff. Sometimes that means realizing that not every trend is the best fit. There are many pros and cons of technology in the workplace that might support or contradict what trends will try to convince you of. Make sure your evaluations are specific to the needs of your specific business, customer base, and team, no matter what.
If you want innovation to flourish within your company, you need to create an atmosphere in which that can happen, and that starts with you. Being transparent about at least some of your ideas, including the ones that don’t work, can help encourage others to share their ideas as well. There needs to be an atmosphere of trust, cooperation and constructive criticism. This means your employees should feel free to critique your ideas as well. Model objective evaluation of ideas, separating yourself from even those that you may feel particularly emotionally attached to. Demonstrate how storytelling and emotion have their place at certain stages but not when you are genuinely trying to test the merits of something new. Talk about and praise innovative solutions, and reward employees who provide them.
You also need to create an atmosphere that allows people to see and participate in the entire process from idea to implementation. In many ways, ideas can be cheap. It’s easy to have them, easy to talk about them and easy to get excited about them but much more difficult to take them from theory to practice. Work with your employees to create detailed and structured plans for executing innovation, including a Plan B to fall back on in case of problems or even failure.