How small businesses become innovative

What is innovation? No entrepreneur has time nor wants to get caught up in definitions. That is how philosophy died, while science was figuring out all the answers. It is important, though, to have clear meaning so that the processes we engage in have defined outcomes.

As things stand, it may feel like techies and other very technically skilled individuals have hijacked innovation, in meaning. Just check our opportunity page if you don’t believe it. One smart individual, Peter Drucker, begs you not to fall for “technical virtuosity.” He writes in his book, ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship‘, that innovation can happen in many forms.

All innovation means is coming up with better solutions. The solution being in the context of exploiting a business opportunity. Yes, you will get more plaudits for disruptive innovation – tearing down a whole system and coming up with your own. But incremental innovation also works. For instance, I’m certain you will not scoff at the chance to reduce business costs in these economic times.

You may believe that your expertise is best directed in other places. And that innovation, really, should be left to the clever younger people. You need to know that there is no correlation between age and creative thinking. More, our guy, Peter Drucker made a stong case that innovativeness is a behavior, not a trait. True, there are people who innately see things differently. But everyone can practice and learn how to be innovative.

Once you get past this confidence issue, the other problems of innovating are easy pickings. One to look out for is whether or not you are even motivated enough in your business. This is a much larger question of opportunity versus necessity entrepreneurship.

If you have only been pushed into starting a business, it’s harder to stay focused. These types of business owners have a mindset of holding out for something better. This limits tolerance to risk and commitment to business. These traits will dissuade you from the, involving, process of innovation. If you have ever had a business partner who chose to leave, down the road, I’m sure you understand. Maybe you should go it alone anyway.

Identifying opportunities

Even as we urge young people in Kenya to create jobs, it is important to emphasize motivation. It is important to emphasize the pull factor of becoming an entrepreneur. If the message can be identifying opportunities rather than the end goal of “becoming your own boss,” better outcomes will be realized. This is actually relevant to any other entrepreneur. As Bob Collymore implied, in his comments about “Kiosk Mentality,” entrepreneurs should rely on market research rather than the zero sum game of “siphoning a rival’s client.” It sounds patronizing, but we can all win (even though there can only be one number one).

You may want to innovate but can you actually do it? Do you have the technical skills to actualize your goal? Yes, entrepreneurship is, more than most, about learning on the job. But having skills is good foundation. It will help you and your business avoid stagnation. This is where it starts to fall apart. Just as you develop skill to open yourself to new opportunities, your business needs reorganizing in process, product and service every now and again. This will help you remain competitive.

The second question to whether you can innovate is if you have the money. Small businesses don’t really have resources to invest in big jumps. So, there’s your answer. We’re not going to tell you to do it without money but don’t fall for claiming money is the biggest barrier. Really, the facts show otherwise.

Without enough money, there are only two options on your table. One, you will have to downsize your agenda until it fits your pocket. You will need to compromise as much as you can and substitute for as much as is possible. It can happen that breaking down your project to fit your “situation” makes it not viable anymore. In that case, postpone it. Think positively while at it (haha). You have only been delayed, not denied.