Are you struggling to stay innovative in your small business? In order to stay relevant in a noisy marketplace, the most successful startups boldly embrace a culture of innovation. They consistently roll out blockbuster ideas to stay out in front of potential, new and current customers. Small businesses with their limited resources can hit a wall when trying to generate creative ideas. If you want to inspire more innovation in your small business, consider these tips from, the father of the light bulb, Thomas Edison – the ultimate idea guy.
In the book Innovate Like Edison, authors Michael Gelb and Sarah Caldicott (Edison’s grandniece) suggest that Edison devised a specific pattern for innovation. Once I studied this, I believe that it is very relevant to the daily struggles of today entrepreneurs.
“Edison brings us some of the most practical information on innovation that we can find anywhere,” Caldicott says. “Even though he lived in the early years of the industrial age, his business practices were ahead of their time.”
These five principles, which the authors dubbed “Edison’s Five Competencies of Innovation,” can help any small business owner maintain a competitive edge through breakthrough processes, products and services.
1. Solution-centered mindset. Edison consistently used reading as a catalyst for experimenting with new forms of thinking. This, along with his unique brand of optimism, generated solutions more rapidly than any of his competitors.
2. Kaleidoscopic thinking. Edison’s mind worked like a kaleidoscope. He consistently visualized problems from multiple angles, which allowed him to come up with solutions that weren’t obvious to others.
3. Full-spectrum engagement. Edison held specific ideas about balancing work and play, solitude and collaboration, concentration and relaxation. He was a fun-loving father of six who had a great sense of humor. He could shift his focus of attention in fluid ways from work to personal, helping him live a full life.
4. Mastermind collaboration. Edison believed in flat organizations where anyone could suggest an idea. He often brought people from multiple disciplines together on a team to solve problems and create diverse solutions.
5. Super-value creation. Edison understood that commerce demands creativity. He linked the two by designing the product for the need. He created what was missing.
After thinking over these five principles, they seem quite timeless in today’s business environment. I’ve broken them down into six practical things you can do to maintain your competitive edge in your small business.
1. Track industry trends. Entrepreneurs should seek knowledge relentlessly. Read everything you can, including science fiction and other content outside your industry–you never know what could inspire an innovative idea. Make sure someone in your company (if not you) constantly surveys the international business environment. Don’t be afraid to set a trend. Early adopters always stand a better chance of winning big.
2. Facilitate creativity from employees. Don’t feel as if you have to come up with the answers alone. Hold monthly or quarterly brainstorming sessions with employees in which you publicly acknowledge great ideas and business concepts. As an extra incentive, offer a cut to employees who invent ideas you take to market.
3. Listen to your customer for the answers. To identify need gaps, watch your customers in their environment. You may observe a new opportunity to provide your services or products to new customers or build a new offering entirely. Edison invented the document-duplication machine after watching insurance agents spend so much time hand writing documents for insurance policies.
4. Prioritize continuing education. If the last time you stepped into a classroom was in college, it’s long past time to get exposed to some new ways of thinking. You can enroll in or audit week- or month-long programs at four-year and community colleges across the country. The National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship is a great resource for finding community college entrepreneurship programs. I’ve taken business courses at The Tuck School at Dartmouth and The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
5. Seek out mentorship. Mastermind groups and peer mentoring programs such as those run by Vistage can make any entrepreneur better. Tap into the wisdom of professionals from diverse disciplines to brainstorm specific business challenges.
6. Take regular retreats to think. As entrepreneurs, many of us eat, sleep and live work. That is no way to fuel innovation. Take regular time off to rest, relax, think and meditate. I try to do it every 90 days in my hectic business. When you rest your mind, amazing ideas can flourish. Keep a notebook with you at all times so you can capture these ideas in your daily travels–you’d be amazed how an article from a magazine you grabbed in the airport could give you the idea of a lifetime.
Edison believed that people have remarkable ability to do great things if they are open to it. If innovation is how we grow in business; then without it, we remain stagnant. Give a culture of innovation a chance in your small business to help it grow. You must grow yourself to grow your business too.
What do you do to stay innovative in your small business?
Note: This article was first published under the title, Even Small Businesses Can Innovate Like Edison at Open Forum ©FedEx
Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is America’s #1 small business experts. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works.