Putting an Innovation Strategy in Place

In baseball, everyone wants to hit a home run. In the small business world, many owners have the same goal when it comes to their innovation strategy.

Innovation is sometimes thought of as a breakthrough that turns the industry on its ear and changes everything—new product lines, new ways of producing or distributing products or services, and new technologies that render the current processes obsolete. While these types of innovations are trendsetting and glamorous (until the next big thing comes along), only a very small percentage of successful innovations in business actually fall into the "breakthrough" category. It’s the attention they draw that leads us to assume they occur more often than they do.

A very effective innovation strategy for small business owners is to focus on ideas that you run across every day: ideas for improvements that come from employees, customers, suppliers, distributors, business magazines, online sites, and other people and organizations you interact with regularly. These ideas are often easy to get, easy to implement, and quick to yield feedback about how well they work. The reason some companies fail at trying something new is that they wait around (sometimes for years) for the next big idea they believe will put them on the map. All the while, these same companies overlook the myriad number of smaller ideas that are circulating the hallways and break rooms about how to do things differently and better.

So keep those home run expectations for the baseball field, and feed and support the ideas that can bring you a base hit. If you get enough of them, you might just win the game anyway.

Lisa Gundry, PhD Professor of management Director, the Center for Creativity and Innovation DePaul University Chicago