3 ways to introduce innovative thinking in your small business

3 ways to introduce innovative thinking in your small business

In today's world, where consumers have a myriad of options available, you have to position your business as a leader in innovative thinking in order to grow and most importantly, stay in business. How do you do that? Staying ahead of the curve means offering products and services that evolve as the market changes. It means adding value to your customer's life. It means leading instead of following.

Here are some simple, effective tips to help jumpstart innovative thinking, and ultimately create services and products to set your business apart:

1. Get out of the office

If there's anyone we can look to as a leader in innovative thinking, it is Sir Richard Branson. He comes up with his best ideas when he is not in the office. Take Virgin Galactic, for example. Why fly to another continent when you can fly into space? There are no boundaries to his innovative thinking. He looked at the niche market of very wealthy people and the ultimate travel experience - an idea few would have the guts to pursue.

Dull, cramped office spaces aren't conducive to innovative thinking. If you need to think creatively to solve a problem or come up with a new strategy, you need a fresh, new space to think from.

Tip: Coffee shops are great spots for brainstorming sessions. Besides the obvious boost from caffeine, coffee shops have the right amount of ambient noise to fuel creativity.

2. Do less. Listen more.

Not only should you listen to your customers, but you should also listen to your employees. If you're in the habit of spearheading meetings, take a step back to simply listen. Great ideas can come from everywhere, even the shy girl in the corner.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are both introverted leaders with great listening skills.

Tip: Next time you're hosting a brainstorm, consider facilitating the session instead of leading it. Take notes. Listen. Give each person a chance to voice his or her idea. You never know where you might find the gem.

3. Don't judge too quickly.

For small businesses it means not shooting down any ideas - whether they come from you, your partners or your subordinates. Trust is important in order for employees to feel safe enough to share creative thoughts.

How would you have reacted if an employee said you should design a coffee cap that functions as an alarm clock? Would you have binned the idea? Nescafé Mexico took the plunge and redesigned the cap of their coffee jars to function as an actual alarm clock. You simply unscrew the cap to turn off the alarm, and at the same time, get your first coffee fix for the day.

Tip: Create a designated area where ideas can be shared. This could be a physical space, such as a wall filled with ideas scribbled on post-it notes… or a digital space like Google Drive or Dropbox. Keep the momentum going by creating regular challenges and feedback sessions.

What about innovation in South Africa

If you want to be at the top of the innovation game in SA, you have to look global, but act local. That means taking what is happening in the rest of the world, and giving it a local spin.

Here are some great examples of innovation in South Africa:

Innovation in coffee shops:

Although the idea of plug points in coffee shops isn't groundbreaking, it's the way Shift Espresso Bar in Cape Town makes it so integral to the design that is innovative. Owner Luigi Vigliotti designed the space with the entrepreneur and freelancer in mind - the tables are fitted with easily accessible plug points, USB-ports, cellphone charging stations, as well as individual desk lamps.

Innovation in the drinks' category:

No one likes a warm beer. But when do you know when your brew has reached just the right temperature? For Castle Lite, that would be 4˚C. Their innovative solution? The 2-Stage Cold Indicator on each bottle and can.  

Innovation takes to the road:

Uber reinvented urban transportation. The company connects passengers to drivers of luxury vehicles via a mobile app (and the phone's GPS.) To appeal to a broader market, UberX was launched to provide a wider selection of cars at more affordable rates. The app allows you to request your ride with one tap, track your driver's location and pay via pre-loaded account details.

How are you going to kick-start innovation today?

Visit our business advice page for more useful tips.

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