Innovate by Streamlining Business Procedures

Line design. Project processMany businesses focus their innovative activities on product innovation, which can produce valuable company assets.  In addition to developing new products and new product features, businesses should look for ways to streamline business operations by innovating business processes.

Here is an approach to business process innovation:

1. Big Question:  Is the process necessary? The first question to ask when evaluating a business process is whether the process is necessary.  What is the purpose or end result of the process?  Is it still needed – does it provide value to the business?  You would be surprised how often I see clients with internal procedures that are followed because “that’s the way we’ve always done things” or “that’s what the ‘policies and procedures manual’ says”.  Before you attempt to improve an existing process, make sure it needs to be performed.  If not, don’t spend time “optimizing” the process, just eliminate it.

2. Identify the desired result of the process. Ask questions to determine the goal of the process.  Why was the procedure originally developed and Continue reading

Cultivating Innovation Is a Direct Path to Profit

Rear view of young professional who is drawing a tree with light bulbs on the concrete wall. Light bulbs as a concept of new business ideas.(Note: This article was originally published by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. at Copyright 2015 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Do you have people in your organization who say they aren’t creative? Maybe you’re even one of those people.

But don’t buy into this idea, because everyone is capable of developing innovative ideas, even those who say they are not “creative.” In my work with clients, I am frequently asked how to generate innovative ideas. And what I reply is that to identify seeds of innovation you can cultivate, you should examine the problems to be solved, and the unmet needs in your company or industry.

Those seeds of innovation provide a powerful starting point for developing the valuable innovations that will increase your revenue and market share. Once you know how to recognize them, you can discover these innovation seeds in every part of your organization.

1. Your sales department

Your sales team members should be able to identify seeds of innovation during their daily interactions with customers and potential customers. The salespeople can identify missing product features that customers request and that may already be provided by a competitor.

Direct customer interaction by members of the sales team provides valuable feedback regarding desired features, favorite product attributes and other issues. This information can help your company develop innovative new features that distinguish your products in the marketplace.

An observant sales group also identifies how customers use products. I have worked with many clients who learned about customer actions from interactions between the salespeople and customers. In many instances, the customer actions showed inefficiencies in the product.

These inefficiencies then became “innovation seeds” which, during brainstorming sessions, grew into product revisions that made the product more user-friendly and increased the product’s value to potential customers.

2. Your customer service

Your customer service department is also capable of discovering a variety of problems through customer complaints and other customer feedback. Problems reported by one customer are likely to be experienced by many customers.

Solving these problems can improve Continue reading

Innovation In the Pizza Business

A couple years ago, my family and I were vacationing in northern Michigan.  After spending a morning at a beach along Lake Huron, we decided to try a local pizza restaurant for lunch.  The restaurant was a typical pizza place offering both carry-out pizza and dining in their restaurant.  We found a table and ordered our lunch.  At that time, our two young daughters were accustomed to getting some crayons and a coloring sheet at restaurants to keep them busy.

After ordering, we asked the waitress if she had any crayons and paper for our kids to color while waiting for our pizza.  She told us that she did not have crayons, but would bring us something else for the kids to play with.  There were no other kids in the restaurant, so we didn’t know what kind of “toy” she might bring.  The toy was uncooked pizza dough.  Each of our daughters got a small plate with some pizza dough and flour (to keep the pizza dough from sticking to the plate) to play with.

Our kids loved playing with the pizza dough and made all kinds of things: a snowman, a leaf, a smiley face, rings for their fingers, and more.  For several days Continue reading

How to Build Innovation Into Your Business Without Creating Chaos

(Note: This article was originally published by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. at Copyright 2015 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Business leaders know that innovation is critical to the growth and success of a company. But implementing a company-wide system for even identifying innovative ideas often triggers a strong protest against any initiative that might cause disruptions to the operation of the business.

Employees are already overloaded, so it’s only natural that adding innovation activities, and the uncertainty that comes with innovation, is likely to be met with resistance. You can overcome this resistance by launching an innovation team rather than rolling out a company-wide innovation program. As an Innovation Strategist, I have found that it’s rarely, if ever, necessary or advantageous to involve all of your organization in the innovation efforts. Properly configured and supported, small innovation teams can generate a multitude of valuable ideas without upsetting the day-to-day operations of the business.

1. Identify innovation team members

Select a group of six to eight people who have shown an interest in innovation for your first team. Choose people who enjoy creative activities, who are strong leaders likely to be interested in piloting the new innovation team. Some companies select people from the same department or group within an organization, such as the design or development group. However, a diverse team with members from different parts of the business will be more successful in big picture innovation.

For example, the innovation team may contain representatives from Continue reading

Change Your Environment to Spark Innovative Ideas

Changing your environment can drastically improve your ability to discover innovative ideas.  If you work in an office most of the day, your work distractions will likely inhibit your ability to think creatively.  Unless you leave your office, it is difficult to get away from phones, email notifications, people stopping by with questions, and the pile of projects on your desk that remind you how many things need your attention.

Getting a change of scenery can eliminate or reduce many of those distractions to give your mind some “creative space.”  Here are a few ways you can change your environment to spark some innovations.

1. Inside/Outside – If you spend most of your time inside, go outside.  This can be as simple as going for a walk, or may involve driving to a park or other outside location.  Do something that lets your mind forget about the distractions you leave behind in your office.  If, instead, you work outside, try going indoors as a change of environment.  You can pick a quiet location, such as a library or museum, or pick a location with lots of activity, such as a coffee shop, restaurant or shopping mall.

2. Quiet/Noisy – If you work in a noisy environment, go find a quiet environment for some creative thinking.  Some people thrive in a Continue reading

7 Innovation Pitfalls that Prevent Your Ideas From Seeing the Light of Day

(Note: This article was originally published by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. at Copyright 2015 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Many entrepreneurs fail to leverage innovative ideas in their business. They want to grow their business and offer products with a competitive edge, but neglect techniques and systems that generate a flood of valuable ideas. As an Innovation Strategist, I have observed several common pitfalls that prevent entrepreneurs from identifying creative ideas that can grow their business.

  1. Disregarding Innovation as Too Costly

Innovation does not need to be a complicated, time-consuming activity. Learning a system for identifying and developing innovative ideas takes a bit of time, but it can create huge returns in the form of new products or new features. Once you and your team understand the value of creative ideas, innovation will become a daily habit in your business.

  1. Waiting to Get Bigger

Businesses of all sizes can benefit from identifying creative ideas. Continue reading

Treating Innovation as a Team Sport

Business Team Giving One Another High FiveMany businesses limit innovative activities to particular individuals or specific departments in the organization.  However, this approach often misses valuable innovations that could strengthen the business.

During my work as an Innovation Strategist, I’ve discovered that a better approach is to involve people throughout the organization and start building a culture of innovation.  Think of your business as an “innovation team.”  People from different parts of the company and with different job functions can work together as a team for purposes of generating innovations.  Everyone has creative ideas, so everyone should be involved in the process of generating innovations.  Brainstorming sessions can be more productive if you include people from different departments, who have a different perspective on the company’s activities.  Train everyone on the team how to identify innovative ideas and provide examples of successful innovations (in your business or other organizations) that produced dramatic results for the company.

Schedule innovation contests and structured brainstorming sessions to generate creative ideas.  Celebrate successful innovations that increase revenue, reduce expenses, or strengthen the company’s competitive advantage in the marketplace.  Encourage creative thinking as part of the everyday job activities by incorporating innovation-related tasks in project checklists, employee goals and company guidelines.

Although scheduled brainstorming meetings are valuable, it is also important to encourage people to share ideas with one another and develop innovations in a less formal environment.  This includes one-on-one brainstorming sessions and other impromptu gatherings to discuss ideas and solve problems.

Create your Innovation Team today and start developing an innovation culture in your business.

5 Ways Small Companies Can Out-Innovate Big Corporations

Different red cube out from white group(Note: This article was originally published by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. at Copyright 2015 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Developing innovative ideas is a critical activity for growing companies of all sizes. But leaders of many small companies believe innovation is just for big companies that employ scientists and have large research and development departments. This false belief prevents many leaders from effectively identifying and applying innovations in their organizations. As a result, small businesses may fail to identify valuable ideas that would assist them in growing a profitable company.

Richard Branson has said, “Small businesses are nimble and bold and can often teach much larger companies a thing or two about innovations that can change entire industries.

Leaders of small companies can leverage their business’ size and unique culture to rapidly develop and apply creative ideas. Here are five ways small companies can innovate better than much larger organizations.

1. Speed of execution

Small businesses can position themselves to make decisions quickly, allowing them to be first to market with innovative ideas. Instead of spending months or years evaluating new ideas and passing them through multiple departments, a flexible small business can make fast decisions regarding whether to pursue a particular idea. When a valuable idea is discovered, it can be developed quickly and launched to potential customers. This fast action distinguishes the business as an innovator, and causes its competitors to play “catch up.”

2. Fast access to business resources

When a valuable idea is discovered, business leaders can quickly allocate resources to develop and market the idea. Multiple departments can Continue reading

IDEAS – A 5-Step System for Innovation

ideas iconAn important key to business growth is the identification and leverage of innovative ideas.  Successful businesses distinguish themselves from competitors by creating “must have” products and features that attract attention.

One of the questions I am asked most often is “How can my business create innovative ideas?”  Most people asking this question are looking to expand an existing business or develop a new product or service.  I have created a 5-step system (using the acronym IDEAS) for creating and applying innovative ideas in any business.

I – Identify Innovative Ideas. Understand where and how to create innovations – through brainstorming sessions, problem solving exercises, and other techniques.  You also need a system to record these innovations.  Even if the recording system merely captures the title or a one sentence description of the innovation, you must capture this information.  You can’t benefit from an idea if you do not capture it in the first place.  Provide a simple way for everyone in the company to record or submit their creative ideas.

D – Develop An Innovation Culture. Get people throughout your organization (including yourself) to make innovation part of their daily thought process.  By providing examples of Continue reading

How Do You Define Innovation?

Innovation“Innovate or Perish” – yes, this was a headline in a business magazine recently. Innovation is a popular term these days when discussing business. But many people do not have a good understanding of innovation or what it means for a business to “innovate.”

Innovation refers to the introduction of a new product or service – or “a new way of doing something.” Innovation also includes improving an existing product or service to be faster, cheaper or easier to use.

Peter Drucker’s definition states, “Innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance.” I like this definition because it focuses on improved performance – which may be a new product or an incremental improvement to an existing product.

Seth Godin says, “Innovation is often the act of taking something that worked over there and using it over here.” This is one of my favorite definitions because Seth recognizes that innovation includes applying techniques from one industry in a different industry to achieve improved results.

Henry Ford is a good example of this process. He did not invent the car and he did not invent the moving assembly line. Instead, Continue reading