The Wise Entrepreneur

Key Things An Entrepreneur Must Know About Innovation

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Now, this word ‘innovation’ could be defined and interpreted in many ways. I don’t desire to go into the technicalities but I will explain this in a simple way. Innovation is basically the introduction of a new idea, thinking, model, system, process, product or service etc. aimed at creating and delivering value for an enterprise. It is the application of new and better solutions to meet existing market needs or even entirely new including unknown market needs. I will leave it at that for now, but if you have an innovative and inquisitive mind to understand more about this word, you could look for any related resources anywhere and proceed to satisfy your curiosity. Ok? The main issue is that there are so many entrepreneurs today who have no clue about innovation. They do not understand the power of an innovative mind in business. My article today is aimed at highlighting some critical points an entrepreneur should know.

Let me start by using some quotes about innovation.  I guess you know these powerful guys I’m going to quote from. If you don’t, I encourage you to find out more because they are very powerful guys in the world of entrepreneurship. You could pick a few good things from them if you have an open mind. Don’t you think so? In the words of Brian Tracy; ‘All breakthroughs in business come from innovation, from offering something better, cheaper, faster, newer, or more efficient in the current market place.’ Michael Dell once had this to say; ‘It’s through curiosity and looking at opportunities in new ways that we’ve always mapped our path at Dell. There’s always an opportunity to make a difference.’ An anonymous writer once wrote this; ‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’ Quoting Steve Jobs; ‘A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and may be that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.’ Job additionally said; ‘Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.’

Again, I will leave the quotations at that. You might accuse me of not being innovative by just using other people’s quotes in my blog. I refuse that allegation. I can assure you that this blog platform is one of the innovative ones on entrepreneurship; one of the best entrepreneurship resources. I challenge you and I’m ready for a fight (not physical of course) to defend this. I prefer physicals in other areas of life. Not the physicals that lead to unwarranted destruction and waste of time leave aside belittling. Not the ones that lead to rearrangement and deformation of body parts. I’m not afraid by the way. I’m as bold as a lion, but as harmless as a dove.  So, back to my point about innovation, it is normally said that each innovation is a link, the perfection of that which was before and the foundation of that which will come after. I candidly think that many entrepreneurs and enterprises out there are missing out on some good things because they are not placing enough focus on innovation. I’m not telling you to invent a rocket with the size of a cell phone. So don’t run away. Let’s just consider a few things about innovation. Ok?

Here now we go.

  • The most powerful enterprises in the world arose from innovation. If you happened to know the history of some of the most powerful enterprises we see globally today, I believe you agree with me that innovation catapulted them into their present statuses. Why? Because copy cats have their limitations. Human beings are excited by and look for new things. As an entrepreneur, you need to research, think, explore, discover, invent. You need the renaissance mentality. This phrase ‘renaissance mentality’ is another thing I like, just like the kaizen I endlessly talk about. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the customer or client and imagine what they need or desire. You might bump onto something nice. Do you know that the famous Coca Cola (coke) drink you enjoy today was the result of curious activities of a curious pharmacist by the names John S. Pemberton in 1886? Certainly, I don’t think this guy was actively looking for a drink. He must have been on one of the concoction preparation adventures pharmacists are sometimes at. I don’t like drugs by the way. Occasionally though I can’t avoid them. So, what I’m saying is this. Let your enterprise be amenable to innovation. Don’t get stuck in the past. Be creative. Think out of the box.
  • Innovation does not have to be about complicated products and services. I need to demystify this innovation of a thing. Innovation relates to simple things just like it relates to advanced things. This is why I mentioned above that I’m not telling you to invent a rocket with the size of a cell phone. Some people will simply run away from this word innovation because of the wrong perception they have about it. They will immediately start thinking about a laboratory, specialized tools and equipment (and related money pains), hypothesis, academic references, algebra, trigonometry, years of pain, etc. You can name them. Never let your mind tie you down. However, if you just desire to remain in that tiny corner shop; or become a renowned retailer in your remote village, then you can ignore this article. I will not pick a fight with you. Mr. Entrepreneur, you can derive wonderful and very lucrative business models from simple creative thinking. Just take a look at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) that is a multinational brand today. Can you imagine that that business simply sells fried chicken, of course with some additionals? Now, come on my friend! Somebody help (helep in some versions) me here. Don’t we have fried chicken in our homes, served by people we love more than KFC staffs? Despite all these, those KFC folks know their thing. We can’t deny going there sometimes, and others visit those joints quite often. I’m speaking the truth. Some cannot pass a week without it. KFC is simple (non-complex) innovation. There is something there they do with that chicken that makes a unique business case that attracts millions worldwide. Do you understand me? That is innovation. Simple innovation. No rocket science. Period!  
  • Limitless thinking across your business including the various functions and processes in your enterprise, and what the market wants might surprise you with something new that the market likes. I will use a Ugandan example to illustrate my point here. Ugandans are generally good people by the way. Forget about some of the stories and disturbing news screens you occasionally watch. They are quite unrepresentative of the peaceful and graceful (gentle crested crane spirit) of Uganda. The pearl of Africa. I will talk about the negatives of the crested crane attitude or spirit another day probably. Let me leave it there for now. I recently heard some interesting story about a bodaboda operator that is revolutionizing that industry. By the way, this word ‘bodaboda’ was reported to have been added to the dictionary recently (2017). So if you have no clue about what I’m referring to, just consult a new version of the dictionary (Oxford I think). A Google search might be less painful though. Bodaboda has some equivalents in many African and Asian countries. The Ugandan story is about safe bodaboda something. Bodaboda’s are known to be very reckless and risky. In short, if you like to increase your probability of an accident (for whatever motive), you could consider using them say about 10 – 15 times a in a day. Don’t blame me. Ok? This guy simply introduced a safe way to operate the bodabodas. His business growth numbers are unimaginable for that business. Mr. Entrepreneur, limitless thinking about your business, processes, functions etc. can give you surprisingly innovative ideas that can propel your business to a height you never dreamt about. Don’t we have several modern business management approaches taught in Universities about these? Come on.
  • Everyone is created with the ability to innovate but individuals use this gift differently. Now, this is a dangerous statement I’m making here, though it’s a truism. Human beings are all created with a brain. I’m yet to find a human being without a brain. Get me right here. Sometimes people use the word brain to mean intelligence or high standards upstairs. That is why you find references to IQ, brainy etc. and their opposites like opaque, clueless etc. Sometimes you find clueless people very brainy in some things. I’m not talking about the brain in that context. I’m talking about the physical or biological brain. Do you get me? So, with that put to rest, human beings have both the left and the right side of the brain. Scientific research indicates that the right side of the brain manages innovation and creativity while the left side manages logic and reasoning etc. Innovation and creativity are synonymous. Everybody has that brain resource or capability but these are used in different ways and to different extends. Some people do not have their innovative sides developed due to reasons such as background, mental conditioning, fear, lack of opportunity or other resources etc. When put to use however, there are amazing things that can come out. This explains why people do amazing things during crisis sometimes. It’s because they put that creative mind into action. My dear entrepreneur, don’t think that only your competitors were born with that innovative gift, and hence should always be ahead of you. Know that you have the ability and can make use of it in the interest of your enterprise.
  • Lack of innovation leads to slow business death. Yes – I mean business death. If you don’t innovate in your enterprise, you are following the way of dinosaurs. Your business will soon become history. Fossilized I mean. If you have nothing new to offer to the market, your enterprise will start having reduced revenue over time. You will have more challenges in competition because everyone will soon copy what you are doing, and even beat you in your own game. Haven’t we seen this? It’s the case of a student being smarter than the professor. Market share dwindles due to inability to innovate. I guess you don’t like this. Get this right. Growing and developing businesses are always innovating. Don’t you see the likes of the Samsungs with multiple models and versions of those models? You might not be a Samsung but you can be innovative with whatever you are doing. Don’t you think so? You could for example deliver newspapers with a difference. You could serve customers in your restaurant with a difference and uniqueness, bringing something new routinely. You could do your online business with uniqueness. Can’t you?  
  • There are several approaches to innovation. Permit me to bring in a little complexity here, for curious entrepreneurs who might want to take the innovation game higher. There are several approaches to innovation and these include incremental, disruptive and open innovation among others. Incremental innovation basically involves modifying what is already available. While incremental innovation is conservative, disruptive innovation is not. Disruptive innovation, sometimes referred to as ‘transformative’ innovation or ‘creative destruction’, is innovation that challenges the paradigm and the enterprise. Creative destruction implies the endless cycle of innovation resulting into conventional goods, services and organisations being substituted with new ones. Disruptive innovation is radical in nature. Open innovation, also referred to as ‘crowd sourcing’, involves collaborating with partners to solve business problems. I don’t know what business you are in, but you could consider these alternative approaches to your innovative planning and ideas.
  • Innovation requires resources and patience. By the way, one reason why many entrepreneurs shy away from innovation is the fact that it requires resources and patience. This is not a license to avoid it. Don’t run away because of this. The patience and resources you put in innovation eventually pays you back if you are smart. This resource might not be zillions of money. It could simply be your brain resource. I mean thinking. If you want to pay yourself for hard thinking, that is up to you. It’s you and your business. I’m just giving you some pieces of advice. How you go about implementing it is your option and your business. My concern is that you implement the advice wisely so that you don’t burn your fingers and start imagining or dreaming that I gave you wrong or bad advice. I don’t give bad advice. Ok? You know your business, and how much resource you can comfortably and reasonably put aside for innovation. You also know for how long you can reasonably try something before moving on. Never devote your entire revenue in innovation. Never spend your entire life, and be buried trying one thing. Do you get me? You will have only yourself to blame. People will use different adjectives to describe your history and life in your absence.
  • Innovation guarantees the future of your enterprise and keeps you ahead of the pack. The final key thing an entrepreneur must know about innovation is the fact that it guarantees the future of your business. It also keeps you ahead of the pack. Again I use a disclaimer here. This is based on the assumption that you are doing other things right in the business. Don’t mess up your business and start yapping that I said innovation alone can guarantee your enterprises. What I’m saying is this; your business stands a much higher chance of lasting in the entrepreneurial world if you lay emphasis on and practice innovation. Additionally, such approaches to your business most likely will keep you ahead of many other lazy competitors. I can bet this. If you checked across many enterprises today, you might be shocked to find that the majority have not applied anything new or innovative in their business for the past one to two years. No new product or service. No improvement in their product or service, process, delivery, presentation, method etc. Why do we then spend time and money doing expensive researches about business failures when we don’t care and teach about the fundamentals like innovation? I tell you. Human beings have found ways to keep very busy doing things that could be avoided to save resources.

In conclusion, the above are some key things an entrepreneur must know about innovation. I thought I should share this with you today. It’s about the power of innovation and creativity. It’s about the advantages of innovation and creativity. I believe you can derive from this write-up some good action points regarding innovation in your business, whatever it is. If you can’t see anything in this article to pick and implement, then you are certainly leaving the right side of your brain extremely idle. Not good I think!

With every good wish,

Till then,

The Wise Entrepreneur

Picture of Clayton W. L. Mwaka

Clayton W. L. Mwaka

Clayton W. L. Mwaka, a Ugandan chartered accountant and motivational speaker with 24 years of diverse experience, specializes in business administration, international consultancy, and lecturing. He advocates for personal empowerment through balanced living, qualitative leadership, and paradigm shifts, aiming to unlock individual potential globally.

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