Innovation: What, How & 4 Practical Tips

This Tuesday, the 19th October was the annual Small Business forum by Enterprise Toronto. We had over 2,500 people come throughout the day with incredible speakers, exhibitors, keynotes, democamps, ignite sessions and, of course, guests. As well as the resident digital strategy expert, on-hand all day to answer questions in the digital media zone, I was asked to run one of the sessions on Innovation (slides below).

It’s a difficult topic to speak on. While a huge part of my day job is innovation it is something I rarely present on for one reason; Innovation is not a tactic and tactic-based speeches present the practical, actionable information that attendees thrive on. I took the request as a challenge, could I present practical, innovation based concepts that small business could action?

Before moving on, it is necessary to define what Innovation is. To me, Innovation is a meaningful change that is not just a new technology. It could be a new business model, experience or distribution channel (see slide 3 for more details).

I also think it is important to note that Innovation is not a tactic. Innovation is a process.

We also need to understand the Barriers to Innovation (slide 5). The biggest barrier is development times (32%) followed by lack of coordination (28%) and a risk averse culture (26%), which gives us a good indicator that innovation is not for the faint-hearted.

Now we have a definition and an understanding of barriers, how can a small business innovate? My belief is to continue asking questions. Always ask yourself ‘why’ and ‘is there a better way?.“ An example I love to ask ‘What would it take to deliver my product / service at half the cost?.” Yep, sounds pretty ridiculous and unachievable. But perhaps you manage to shave 5% off your costs this year and another 5% next year; it all adds up.

When answering these questions, be honest and ask “why” 5 times. This technique was innovated by Toyota to examine cause and effect in relationships. By always asking why, you will stop looking at symptoms of a larger problem and get to the root. For example, expensive shipping may end up being caused by bad packaging!

In my slides, I outlined four practical tips (in some detail) for small business to innovate, which include: – Establish Partnerships; – Focus internally, on your business model; – Be iterative; and – Be open to pivot.