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Innovation 101: We don’t all have to change the world

One of the most common questions I’m asked by current and aspiring business owners is “how do I make my business more innovative?”

My response often comes as a surprise to most, “stop trying to change the world!”

The problem a lot of business owners face is that too many are looking for the game-changing, billion dollar idea that will propel their business to the same heights as Apple or Google. In 99 per cent of cases this simply isn’t possible.

A Global Competitiveness Report released recently by the World Economic Forum showed Australia ranked 22nd in the world when it comes to innovation.  For many this ranking shows just how much Australian business is falling behind on innovation. But why?

In my view, a lot of Australian businesses believe innovation requires inspirational ideas and huge levels of investment in terms of time and money. When this is so, business leaders put innovation to the back-burner and instead focus on everyday tasks.

What is innovation?

For me, innovation is about finding new or fresh ways to approach problems that face your organisation or industry.   While we all are hoping for that one-in-a-million game changing idea, the truth is for most of us this is unrealistic.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt when it comes to innovation is to forget unwritten rules. Many businesses and industries have unwritten rules on how a business should operate, rules that often hamper productivity and effectiveness. For example, why do consulting firms always charge clients by time? Is there a new, innovative approach which could deliver better results for clients and be more profitable for firms? Businesses must look at these types of traditional models and challenge common ways of thinking.

All too often SMB owners do not take the time to think about these problems, with many believing innovation should be the responsibility of large organisations or government. This claim is backed by GE’s Global Innovation Barometer which states Australia is an ‘innovation traditionalist’. According to the barometer, many Australian businesses view innovation as too difficult and a chore, rather than an opportunity to drive business growth and success.

Successful innovation

The key to success in innovation, I believe, lies in not being afraid to take calculated risks.  In many instances, businesses have great innovative ideas but lack the conviction and belief to implement them.

On the flip side, some businesses are too quick to market, implementing ideas which are ill-thought out and doomed to fail from the start. The trick is finding a balance between being a gun slinging cowboy, implementing ideas at the drop of a hat, and digging a hole to China, over-analysing what could and could not happen.

It’s important too to remember that just because an idea is not an immediate success, it doesn’t mean it’s a failure.   Often, all that’s required is a few small tweaks and adjustments to make an idea workable.  No one gets it right first time so don’t be afraid to test out ideas with customers or share ideas with trusted peers.

So whilst we all sit back and dream of developing the new iPod, iCar, iWallet or iToaster, remember that when it comes to innovation all you really need is a simple iDea.

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Neil Tilley

Neil Tilley

Neil Tilley is the CEO and co-founder of Upstream Print Solutions, a company that achieved success as Australia’s largest independent managed print solutions company. Neil founded Upstream after seeing an opportunity in the market to help customers save money on their printing. In 1995, along with Gordon Hoen, he formed the Upstream Group: a group of companies with the shared vision to help businesses reduce the cost and hassle of document output management. These companies, including Upstream Technology and Print Solutions Australia, merged in 2007 to become Upstream Print Solutions. In 2010, Upstream became a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of Fuji Xerox Australia. In his role as CEO, Neil is focused on providing continued innovation and value to customers, and fostering an environment where staff can show their own entrepreneurial spirit. Read more about Upstream at <a href="http://managed-print-solutions.com.au/">The Upstream Blog</a>.

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