Guest post by Denise Wilson and Willie Pena
Innovation is naturally born in a high-pressure environment. Thinkers must vie against others offering competing ideas. Proposed ideas must compete against what’s already in the marketplace now as well as products set to debut in the near future. Innovation must be swiftly done or else run the risk of being obsolete. On top of these demands, are other barriers that can choke innovation. These barriers often come from within the company. If you want to be a true innovator in your field, here are some common small business innovation obstacles you must surmount and suggestions to mitigate these barriers:
Faulty Process: Creating with the End in Mind
The innovation process in many small companies presupposes a fixed end result. Thinkers move toward that anticipated result by brainstorming a goal, concocting creative ways to achieve the goal, acquiring the required resources, executing numerous plans, building prototypes and selecting the premier one. But what happens when your process is done and the market has changed? Market dynamics move quickly; sometimes during the time it takes to complete the innovation process, the proposed “innovation” is eclipsed by another creation and is no longer novel or cutting edge.
Small business innovation requires a flexible process where participants remain aware of all market changes and are prepared to dart in a completely different direction if need be. It requires a process that develops in small steps and then recalibrates, adjusting to ever-changing variables. There can be no absolute fixed goal; the goal must be toward a specific direction, but always negotiable. The shorter the individual steps and phases of development, the more the process can be responsive and adaptable. The end product can always become greater or different than initially imagined in order to truly be fresh and resonant with not only the contemporary market but future conditions and audiences.
Finally, when it comes to process, focus on concrete steps and actions more than the planning. Don’t languish in the planning stage. Start manifesting so you can see the errors in an actual prototype or model and correct them in time to launch the next prototype.
Rules & Red Tape: Too Many Restrictions
In a small business, there are many limits, whether it’s money, personnel or a micro-managing owner. Unfortunately, it’s hard to accordion innovation inside restrictions. Experimentation and engineering new systems or products can be costly for small business budgets. Companies sometimes cannot afford to innovate or to hire innovation consultants. To gain funding for specific innovative projects, develop the gift of grant writing. University, government and private sector grants abound for entrepreneurs who can contribute something needed and inventive to society. It might be helpful to contract with a grant writer or ensure you hire a business manager or secretary with grant writing experience.
When it comes to personnel, not every employee pool is a brain trust. Some small businesses are restricted because they simply do not have qualified personnel for the inventions they propose. As a solution, businesses can elect to look outside the company to forge partnerships with local universities, business think tanks and other community experts to create solutions and propose projects. This can create conflict over intellectual property rights, however. Agreements should be in place ahead of time to see who will own any creations from the partnership. Realistically, every company, even small ones, have some in-house talent that can propose clever and original ideas; it may only be necessary to look outside only to contract with technicians to simply provide construction or manufacturing.
Lastly, when it comes to cutting the red tape, time and autonomy are needed by workers tasked with coming up with cutting edge solutions. Managers and owners, despite worry over risks and potential failure, must give freedom and trust so as not to stifle creativity.
Rejection by Target Audience
The most thwarting obstacle is failure to win over the target audience who may be resistant to new offerings that are perceived as too avant garde, unproven or revolutionary. Not everyone is progressive enough to embrace futuristic ideas before it becomes a popular trend. While focus groups can be cheerleaders, it’s not unusual for participants to be critical or even nonchalant about early prototypes.
In such cases, ask for detailed feedback on what works and what does not, what is appealing and what makes the product undesirable. Have critics propose changes. In the end, after solid reflection and correction, be confident that you have interpreted the wave of the future correctly and have created an invention that is essential. Often, it takes the conviction of a company and its message to sway the masses. Innovators can have no fear of failure.
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This post is a collaboration between Denise Wilson and Willie Pena. Pena is a freelance writer, video producer, visual artist, and music producer. He prefers the Oxford comma. In addition to writing for firms such as IBM, Colgate, Transunion, Webroot and a multitude of private clients and websites. Connect with him on LinkedIn.