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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Innovation is a Mindset: Secrets to Successful Entrepreneurship 06-07

Innovation is a Mindset: Secrets to Successful Entrepreneurship


Innovation is a crucial part of business. But can anyone be an innovator?

Innovation is one of the most overused words in the business world today. Companies that are innovating are laying the foundation for future growth, while getting ahead of the competition. They are winning, which is why everyone is either innovating or desperately trying to.
But what’s the secret? Why can a company like Apple redefine the music industry, the mobile phone industry and the computer industry (for the second time, with the iPad) over the course of a decade, while other companies struggle to find their next big hit?
Some people argue either you have it or you don’t. I disagree.
The genius of people like Steve Jobs notwithstanding, I think that everyone can be an innovator. This is an especially powerful concept for entrepreneurs. By definition, you HAVE to be an innovator if you are going to successfully start your own business. Maybe you aren’t inventing the next iPad, but it can be as simple as designing a quicker way for customers to pay at your store.
What I’ve come to learn over the years, is that innovation is a mindset.
The definition of mindset is the following: “a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations.” The really insightful word in that definition is “habitual.” And habits are developed and determined by regular practices.
So, if innovation is a mindset, and a mindset is defined by habits, then creating processes that encourage the right practices or habits can provide a powerful foundation for innovation.
This isn’t just my opinion. I’ve seen it work.
Using Trulia as an example, we have worked to make innovation one of the core cultural values of the company. Our goal is to constantly innovate across the company. We do this within the framework of our product roadmap on a daily basis, but also devote one week per quarter to build things outside the roadmap.
Just like your happiness may be tied to setting aside time to go to the gym, to worship or to take vacations, companies need to establish a regime around innovating. It takes discipline and focus.
To help employees think beyond our product roadmap during the week I referenced, we encourage employees to devote much of their time working on creative projects. The results speak for themselves. Dozens of these small innovation week ideas have become core elements of our product offering and the program continues to expand.
By dedicating time and resources to creating an innovation mindset at Trulia, we are building better products.
By establishing a baseline of innovation practices at your company, you will begin to see that innovation isn’t usually a light bulb turning on from thin air, but the result of consistent dedication to solving the problems at hand.
Innovation is about being honest with yourself and your team about what you are doing. Are you really serving customers as well as you can? What improvements can be made?
Innovation is about being exposed to the right ingredients for new ideas. Lots of innovation happens at the fringes, or the intersection between disciplines and industries. You can take advantage of this phenomenon by being well read on multiple subjects and maintaining a healthy network of contacts across multiple industries.
It’s about making and admitting mistakes. Maybe you invested a lot of money to go in the wrong direction. It’s better to come clean and change your strategy accordingly. Knowing the wrong direction provides important insight to innovators. Heck, it might even be a brilliantly insightful mistake over the long term.
It’s about lifting your gaze out of the weeds and thinking on a larger scale. If people love our apps so much, why are we spending more money building features for the Web?
It’s about making time to think about the bigger opportunities and challenges you are facing, outside of the daily hustle and bustle.
The great innovators are well known and some will even be remembered in history, but innovation is a mindset and thus something that each and every one of us can aspire to.