Browsing Posts in Business Innovation

gradient circle arrowsInnovation is not a one-time activity.  Many innovative companies are founded on an initial innovative idea, but those companies must continue to innovate if they want to grow.  Successful companies continually look for innovation opportunities that can expand their product offerings, increase sales of existing products or enter a new segment of their market.

Netflix is an example of a company that implements continuous innovation.  Initially, Netflix offered a DVD rental service where DVDs are delivered to a customer’s home by mail.  As online streaming of content increased, Netflix began offering services to stream content directly to customer’s homes.  Many commentators criticized Netflix for this business move because the online streaming service resulted in a drop in revenue from the DVD rental service.  However, based on the popularity of online content streaming, it appears that Netflix made a good decision.

Netflix continues to innovate by streaming its own original programs.  Thus, instead of just providing content distributed by other companies, Netflix now offers its own content.  Additionally, the company has changed the way its own program content is released.  Traditional programs with multiple episodes in a “season” release those episodes once a week over a period of months.  Netflix is changing that traditional model by releasing all episodes of its original programs at the same time.  This allows fans of a program to watch the entire season at their own pace, rather than waiting a week between episodes.

Is your business practicing continuous innovation? If not, today is a perfect day to start discovering innovation opportunities and developing innovative products or services.  Work with other members of your team to identify gaps or unmet needs in your market, then brainstorm to develop solutions that fill those gaps and meet the needs of the market.

Have you considered writing a book to help expand your business?  I have lots of innovative ideas to grow my own business and provide valuable information to assist business leaders.  One of my objectives for the coming year is to publish several books related to innovation for small- and medium-sized businesses.  I have already outlined one book that I expect to publish within the next two months.  And, I have scheduled more books to write in the coming year.

 

Have you considered writing a book to expand your own business?  Here are some reasons to consider publishing a book:

  1. A book positions your business as a leader in its market or industry.
  2. A book establishes you as an expert in your field and a credible business leader.
  3. A book is the ultimate business card.

In the past, publishing a book has been time-consuming and expensive.  However, with today’s electronic publishing systems, publishing a book can be quick and inexpensive.  The Kindle platform has a huge following and provides a great mechanism for publishing books.

My first book is for business leaders who want to learn techniques for applying innovation to grow their business.  I was able to outline the entire book in a weekend, and now I’m writing the content for the various sections of the book.

Watch for my book in the near future!  Please leave a comment below and tell me about your book plans for the coming year.

Welcome to my blog – Innovation Explained.  My name is Steve Sponseller, and I teach entrepreneurs and business leaders how to tap into the power of innovative ideas to grow their business.  I enjoy working with innovative companies and have more than 20 years of experience counseling companies of all sizes in a variety of different industries.  I have worked as an Electrical Engineer and an Intellectual Property attorney – I am also the founder of my own company, Innovation Strategies, Inc.  These experiences give me a unique perspective on business from both the “inside” and the “outside”.

After working with hundreds of business leaders and innovators, I have developed proven systems and techniques to identify, develop and implement innovations in any business.  These innovations can grow your company by increasing revenue, reducing expenses, providing a competitive edge, positioning the company as an “innovator” in the market, and more.  I also “practice what I preach” by applying my innovation systems and techniques in my own company.  Keep watch for my upcoming book:  Innovation Jumpstart.

The first step to creating an innovation strategy is understanding innovation and how to leverage creative ideas in your business.  This blog provides regular information related to business innovation that you can apply in your own company right away.  Get your free report “Innovation Excellence” using the sign-up box on this page (top-right corner) to start developing your own Innovation Strategy.

Brainstorming is an important tool for developing new ideas for your business.  Brainstorming activities are also useful in solving problems faced by your business or your industry.

Here are three tips to help you get the most out of your brainstorming sessions.

  1. Schedule Brainstorming Time – Put this activity on your calendar so it is not forgotten or pushed aside by another project.  Schedule as much time as you can, but even a 10 minute brainstorming session can generate a long list of creative ideas.
  2. Record Everything – During your brainstorming activities, write down every idea that comes to mind.  Do not filter out any ideas and never continue reading…

I was recently shopping for new lunch boxes for my kids to carry their lunch to school.  If you have not shopped for lunch boxes/bags lately, you may be surprised at the number of options.  Hard-sided lunch boxes made of metal or hard plastic.  Soft-sided bags of varying shapes and sizes.  And, of course, a huge variety of colors, designs and cartoon characters.

With previous lunch boxes, we have included a re-usable ice pack to keep the contents of the lunch box cold.  This approach works pretty well, but sometimes the ice pack “crushes” the food or the ice pack begins to leak blue liquid all over the contents of the lunch box.

As I reviewed the vast selection of lunch boxes at a local store, I noticed a new type of soft-sided lunch bag that had “built-in” ice.  The advertising materials for the lunch bag said “No Ice Needed!  It’s Built-In!”.  This innovative design includes a freezable gel in the sides of the lunch bag.  So, instead of putting an ice pack into the lunch bag to keep the contents cool, you put the entire lunch bag in the freezer overnight to chill the gel in the sides of the bag.  In the morning, you take the lunch bag out of the freezer and put the lunch inside.  The frozen gel keeps the contents of the lunch bag cool until lunch time.

I love this idea.  The lunch bag does a wonderful job of keeping the contents cool until lunch time.  I believe it does a better job than the old ice packs we used in the past.  Now I don’t have to worry about leaking ice packs or a shifting ice pack that slides to one end of the lunch bag and only keeps part of the lunch cool.

This creative product is an innovation example that combines two existing products to generate a new product providing new benefits to the customer.  This innovation adds a new feature that simplifies use of the product, rather than making it more complicated.  When looking for ways to provide more value to your own clients, don’t forget to consider simplifying your product or service for the benefit of your client.

There’s a common misconception that innovation is just for large companies.  However, identifying and developing creative ideas can benefit companies of all sizes – including small businesses that are just getting started.  Don’t wait until your business grows to a particular size to begin developing an innovation strategy – you may miss some great opportunities.

You don’t need a Research & Development Department or an Engineering Staff to take advantage of creative thinking in your business.  In fact, many small businesses can bring creative ideas to market faster than large corporations because of their smaller size.  Take advantage of the flexibility available to small companies and start the innovation process today.

Here’s all you need to start leveraging innovative ideas:

  1. At least one person willing to spend some time doing “creative thinking”.
  2. At least one “seed” idea.  This “seed” can be a problem or unmet need in your industry or in your own business.  Creative thinking exercises can start with seed ideas to develop potential solutions to these problems or unmet needs.
  3. A way to record the creative ideas (paper/pencil, computer, audio recorder or a white board) – even a napkin and a crayon works (I’ve done this myself several times in restaurants).  If you use a white board, be sure to take a picture of the board before it’s erased or record the ideas using paper or a computer.
  4. A system to evaluate creative ideas.  I have found that a small group of 4-6 people works well for evaluating creative ideas and refining those ideas into products or services that can be implemented in a business.

This is all you need to get started.  You can add more steps and activities as your innovation strategy develops – but keep things simple in the beginning.

Identifying creative ideas is a great way to grow your business.  Using innovation contests and other activities, your organization can and develop a culture of creativity that generates plenty of creative ideas.  These creative ideas can be developed into innovations that provide considerable value to the business.

However, creating a list of innovative ideas is not enough.  You must take action!

Here are several ways to start taking action:

  1. Evaluate the ideas on your list. Get a group of people from different parts of your business (different job functions) and review the ideas submitted.  Perform a cost-benefit analysis on the most promising ideas.  Initially, look for ideas that can be implemented quickly and are likely to produce a significant result to the bottom line.
  2. Prioritize the ideas. Perform an initial ranking of the ideas – be sure to include ideas that are “short term” projects as well as “long term” projects that take more time or resources to implement, but can provide significant long-term growth for the business.
  3. Take steps to implement one or more of the ideas on the list. Take steps to begin implementing at least one of the ideas on your list.  The first step may be to perform further investigation into the feasibility of the idea – such as seeking input from various groups in the company to determine costs, timing, or potential obstacles to address when implementing the idea.

Track the results of the innovative ideas implemented in your business.  For example, you can track increase in revenue, reduction in expenses and customer growth.  Celebrate the positive results of your innovation to encourage further creativity and innovation.

Start building your list of creative ideas today and take action on those ideas to grow your business.

In recent posts on this blog, I mentioned that a common innovation question is “How do I create innovations in my business?”  One of the four key steps in leveraging innovation is to evaluate all creative ideas developed in your business.

To properly evaluate innovations, a reliable tracking system is necessary to capture all creative ideas and monitor the evaluation and implementation of those ideas.

When creating an Evaluation Group to review innovative ideas, include individuals with different job functions in the company.  Many groups I work with include individuals involved in sales, marketing, product development, customer service and production.  These different job functions have different perspectives and can identify potential problems related to certain ideas.  Also, people with different perspectives can expand on the initial ideas based on their additional knowledge or expertise in a particular area.

After evaluating innovations, the tracking system is updated to indicate the current status of the innovation and the next step in the analysis or development process.  Review and update the status of active ideas on a regular basis.

Begin a regular system of innovation analysis to evaluate the creative ideas that are growing in your business.  Select the most appropriate ideas to leverage for the maximum benefit to your company.

Here’s one of my favorite examples of a valuable innovation!  I’ll bet you never thought a brownie pan could be the subject of an innovative new design. Here’s a quick analysis of the delicious innovation process.

The Problem: Many people like brownies with “chewy edges” – the edge that contacts the baking pan.  But, a traditional rectangular baking dish has a limited number of brownies with chewy edges – and most of those brownies only have one chewy edge (four “lucky” corner pieces have two chewy edges).

The Solution: Design a new brownie pan that has a different shape.  Here’s a picture of the innovative brownie pan showing the new shape that produces lots of edges.

The new design produces a batch of brownies where every brownie has at least two chewy edges, thus solving the problem mentioned above.  An added benefit: the new design provides more uniform cooking so there are fewer undercooked center pieces and burned edge pieces.

A larger version of this baking pan is available to make lasagna.

How about lasagna and brownies for dinner tonight!

When people discuss “innovators” in your industry, do they mention your company?  If not, you can start taking steps today to establish your business as an innovator and begin attracting loyal customers and fans.

What companies do you believe are leaders and innovators in their market?  Do you follow these companies in anticipation of their next product or service announcement?  This type of position in any industry can generate lots of attention: customers talk about your company online and with friends, and publications write about your company and its products. This attention strengthens your competitive position in the marketplace.

If you are not yet seen as an innovator in your industry, you can change this perception. As your business develops innovations and introduces them to the market, the business will position itself as a source of creative ideas. People will take notice and begin following your activities and announcements.

You can leverage your business’ innovative activities through advertising, social media and other announcements to show customers (and potential customers) that your business is a leader.  Start identifying innovations today by looking for new products or new features that satisfy unmet needs in your industry.

Share your innovation success stories in the comment section below.

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