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Enacting Innovation

As we are beginning to enter the time when political candidates start positioning themselves for runs at the Presidency, the topic of small business policies and the impact small business has on the economy is front and center of many platform speeches.  Almost without fail, the candidate will make some reference to how important it is to support entrepreneurs and how among the many benefits that small business provide, innovation heads the list.

While many of us have an intuitive understanding of both the critical role small business plays in our economy, and how very often what separates small business from their larger competitors is the ability to provide innovative solutions to customer problems, innovation remains a somewhat elusive concept that few business executives have been able to reliably harness and apply.  A recent meeting of Startup Grind Greenwich hosted by Peter Sinkevich hosted Ted Yang, Managing Partner of Innovation. speak and share some insights about innovation and the role it plays in creating a competitive advantage.  Startup Grind Greenwich attendees are a mix of entrepreneurs, investors, and others who reside in Fairfield and Westchester County who meet monthly to help fuel innovation, economic growth and prosperity.

Small business success demands being innovative.

Small business success demands being innovative.

Ted Yang consented to answering a few questions posed to him about the topic and the highlights of his responses to each question are provided below:

1. What is innovation? How does it differ from “creativity?”

Innovation is about developing a product; a new formulation or a new way of looking at something that people will use and pay a lot of money for. Creativity is more about raw energy. With innovation, you need to make sure that you have good ideas that are expressed in ways that people can use.

Typically, innovation does not exist in a vacuum. You need a team of people to develop an innovative idea and bring it the whole way through the process.

2. Can innovation be purposely created, planned, and programmed or is it more spontaneous?

Unlike creativity, innovation can and should be planned and programmed. To execute ideas you have to create and plan. Ideas can’t be an a vacuum, they must have structure.

Again, innovation does not stem from a singular person, but a team. Surround yourself with people who will call you on your bs and provide honest feedbaThck.

The market ultimately will determine if your innovative idea is right or wrong. People will tell you by how they spend their money.

 3. Should small business/entrepreneurs PLAN to be innovative? Can it be part of business planning or strategy sessions, or is it a different animal?

Absolutely. If you don’t create room for letting ideas percolate then it won’t happen; you will revert to command-control thinking (hierarchical thinking). People have a natural tendency to surround themselves with “yes” people. If you give them honest feedback in public and it doesn’t support their idea, then you are shutting them down and not encouraging innovation. As a result, people will get into “follower” mode. At the end of the day, you need to keep your job and provide for your family; therefore if innovation is not encouraged and rewarded, people will play it safe and “follow.”

4. Is he innovation part of everyone’s job or is it the domain of dedicated employees with unique training, skills, characteristics, etc.; or is to be done during specific times of focus?

It depends on the company and stage of the business. Early on yes, people will focus on innovation, but later on you are busy focusing on executing. There needs to be an evaluative framework to measure innovation throughout the process.

Innovation occurs at various times such as during a crisis, or if the product isn’t working. Within each stage, you’re tackling new challenges; those who have ideas should be focusing on innovation, while others are focusing on those challenges and/or execution.

5. What are the steps to becoming or leveraging one’s innovativeness?

Some people will naturally see something and want to see what else could be. Others don’t care. People are trained out of innovation and therefore need incentives to bring the focus back. If people get ahead and are rewarded with compensation and pats on the back, then they are more focused on being innovative.

In a corporate situation, people tend to be rewarded for staying in line. The mentality should be that ‘I’m going to set up a framework for people to succeed or fail and then I’m going to support that framework.

When interviewing, an organization is trying to gauge raw power. They hired you for a specific thing, why do something else? Large companies can create teams for innovation and growing companies should reward the behaviors. Again, unlock employee potential with proper incentives and create a framework for good ideas.

6. How is innovation measured? Is all innovation good? Is there “bad” innovation?

The more you try to measure it, then you kill it off.  You are stifling it if you measure too early. However, you do have to measure. You need to know how well the ideas perform when you bring them to the marketplace.

If you know that you are lacking innovation because your products aren’t where they need to be; then you need to give it time and start to think of innovative ways to enhance the product.

Innovation can be “bad” if the reason behind it is boredom. If Exxon mobile is investing in new technology and research, but at the end of the day they decide the oil business sucks and they want to get into movies, then it doesn’t make any sense.

David Zahn