Some of the greatest innovators may eat, sleep and breathe in Silicon Valley, but you don’t have to live there to be innovative. In fact, you don’t even need to be an entrepreneur.
We all have the potential to drive innovation – not just in business, but in every aspect of life. That’s because innovation isn’t in the clouds. It’s in the details. We see it in the products and services we rely on in our daily lives.
So how do we become more innovative? You can learn how to unlock your inner innovator with these three steps.
1. Break down the elements
Innovators rarely invent a new product. Most innovation comes when someone tweaks, enhances or changes a product that’s already out there.
Steve Jobs didn’t invent the phone, mp3 player or camera; he packaged them together. Uber didn’t invent cabs; it modernised communication between riders and drivers.
Because innovation often hides in the changes we make to existing products and services, you need to break an item or process down to its core elements. Start examining the various components that make up the whole.
Take eyeglasses, for instance. They’re comprised of frames and lenses. Remove the frames and voila – you’ve got contacts. Switch out the lens for a darker piece of glass, and sunglasses appear. Get rid of the prescription and behold, fashion glasses. (You’d be surprised how many people wear frames just to get the look.)
The better you see a product or service for its fundamental parts, the better able you are to identify specific aspects that could be modified or improved.
Whenever you look at a product or service, ask yourself, “Where can I subtract, change or add something to one component that would make it better or serve a new purpose?” This approach will set you on a path toward innovation.
2. Show a little empathy
Boiled down to its essence, innovation is simply a new way to solve an existing problem. And you can’t solve problems without cultivating empathy.
Empathy enables you to share another’s feelings and relate to the pain, struggle and conflict experienced by an individual or a group. When you appreciate someone’s struggle, you’re in a greater position to figure out a way to help.
Don’t mistake sympathy for empathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for people. Empathy is putting yourself in their shoes and walking a few miles.
Do you sympathise with your clients, boss or colleagues, or do you empathise with them? Sure, it’s important to care about them, but do you stop to think bothers them? What keeps them up at night? Really challenge yourself to identify with their needs.
3. Visualise the ideal solution
To implement true change, you must visit the world of the ideal. The most creative ideas emerge when you have room to think freely.
Here’s the problem with most visualisation exercises: The moment we get an idea, we start dissecting how to make it work on a practical level. We get so constricted by “real-world” restrictions that we miss out on great opportunities for change. If you want to be an innovator, leave reality and all of its limitations at the door for a little while.
Albert Einstein learned the power of visualisation at an early age. His school applied the teaching methods of Johann Pestalozzi, a Swiss educational reformer who believed visualisation is one of the mind’s most powerful features. Pestalozzi championed the idea that imagery is where all knowledge begins.
At 16, Einstein used visualisation and thought experiments to discover the speed of light is always constant. Later in his life, he told a reporter for the The Saturday Evening Post: “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.”
Sit down and visualise how your product would work in a perfect world. How would an ideal solution look? After you’ve conceptualised the ultimate vision, you can start exploring how much of the ideal you can make real.
Innovation isn’t reserved for a few MIT grads working in Silicon Valley. Every one of us can tap into a more innovative way of thinking and make new realities possible. What are you waiting for?
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Business Basics: The Four M’s Of A Successful Start-Up
YOU need only four components to make a success of your business, and they all start with the 13th letter of the alphabet: “M”.
I came to know the “Four M’s” through the International Labour Organisation, and since encountering it for the first time I use this simple concept not only in my own business but also in training aspiring entrepreneurs. Regularly reflecting on the “Four M’s” as a strategic tool to grow your business is critical to business development.
The “Four M’s” are essential elements all successful start-ups need to have in place before going into business. In turn, established entrepreneurs need to continuously balance the “Four M’s” as their businesses grow. It is important not to focus too much on any one of the elements, but to balance: Me, Market, Management and Money effectively.
This is the most important element of your business – it is what makes it unique, motivates, defines and drives the business. Your business should reflect your personal strengths – whether you love crunching numbers or creating concepts – make sure to incorporate “You” into your business blueprint.
By doing what you love, you will be able to overcome disappointment and financial challenges which may crop up during your journey as an entrepreneur.
Remember that you are the jockey, the driver and the visionary. The best horse cannot win the race without the jockey – it is important to believe in your business and live by example through the core values of your business. An entrepreneur should show commitment, determination, leadership, tolerance of risk, creativity, self-reliance and the ability to adapt to excel.
The second “M” – Market – represents product and customer. The fundamentals of marketing remain key for this element of business success. It starts with analysing your market and planning your strategy: Who are your clients and how will you reach them?
Consider the eight fundamentals of marketing – people, place, promotion, price, product, processes, physical evidence, as well as productivity and quality.
Your target market may change as your business grows – be adaptable and attentive to the needs of your market. Your market is a critical element of your business’ success and it needs to be nurtured and responded to appropriately. So, keep your ear on the ground to stay in tune with your market’s needs and wants.
The jockey does not have to be the manager of all the operations and support functions of your business, but it is your duty as founder of the business to ensure that the fundamentals are in place. Institute controls by identifying strengths and weaknesses in yourself and your team. Then implement solutions to avoid any pitfalls or risks in your business.
Even if you are a one-man/ women operation without any team members, you may not be able to fulfil all the functions of your business professionally. In this case it is better to outsource to another start-up or small business.
Stop “being the business” and start managing the business – not only managing the people in the business (team, contractors and market) but also the processes and deliverables of the business.
We normally put too much emphasis on money, particularly when it comes to spending and profit. A mistake most entrepreneurs make is to use their business account as their personal petty cash. Even more critical than the other three M-elements of a successful business, once you run out of money, it will mean the end of the business.
It is crucial to separate business and personal finances – and to be very prudent in the first few years of running your business, especially when you start making profit. Keep tight record, develop regular forecasts, avoid overdrafts, watch interest rates, keep track of expenses, bank all income, self-fund if possible and check bank statement regularly. Re-invest your profits into the growth and development of the business, the reward will be well worth the investment.
The Importance Of Being Organised For Your Start-up
If you are not convinced that it is an important aspect of owning a start-up, read on for reasons why being organised is important for your start-up.
So, you have decided to create a start-up. This is great news, especially if you have solid plans in place and have attainable business goals. However, if you are somewhat of a tidsoptimist or are disorganised, then your start-up could be something of a nightmare to begin with.
Being organised does not have to be difficult or take up too much time. But if you are not convinced that it is an important aspect of owning a start-up, read on for reasons why being organised is important for your start-up.
Schedules are crucial
Established business people understand how a schedule can significantly contribute to business success. You do not have to be at an executive level in order to follow an executive schedule, and setting one up for your start-up can work wonders for how your business grows.
You should take time on the weekends to plan out your week, writing down all obligations, meetings and tasks that you have to finish. Seeing your week written down in front of you will help you to stay on task and will make it easier for you to complete them on time.
Having a schedule is important, as you are the leader of your start-up and you need to stay organised and set an example for any staff you have.
It saves you time
Being organised saves you from rushing around, searching through paperwork to find that one invoice or bank statement. You can use business processing solutions to help you to capture and collect forms, as well as outsourced document collection to save you from having to chase clients for forms and documents.
You should invest in having a well-structured filing system, both in the office and digitally. Use neatly organised folders with clear and relevant names on them for all of your documents, bills and emails. By doing this, you can free up hours of the day to work on important tasks, such as drumming up more business through a new and exciting marketing strategy. You will also be setting an example for your team by having an organised office and computer.
Procrastination can be toxic
When tasks get put off due to disorganisation or procrastination, everyone fails. Not only will you feel bad for not completing a task on time but your clients and possible business partners will see you as unreliable, which is hugely damaging to any start-up. Many instances of procrastination can be linked to not being an organised business.
This is one of the major reasons why organisation in a start-up is essential. You will spend less time procrastinating and more time achieving goals and completing client tasks. Spend time every day organising your digital folders and your physical folders before you start working. This will ensure that there are no distractions throughout the day and you can complete all the important tasks on time and within budget.
Organisation keeps your employees on track
You cannot expect your employees to stick to their schedules and stay organised if the person at the top doesn’t do the same. As the leader of your start-up, you need to set an example for your staff, which means that you have to be the most organised person in the company. While it is important to ensure your employees follow suit, try not to be too overbearing about how they choose to organise their days.
By keeping your company organised, you will be better able to keep your employees on track, making it easier for them to finish tasks on time. This is because they will not be spending time searching for important documents that have been filed in the wrong folder (or not even filed at all) but rather focusing on completing tasks and building your profit as a company.
You can improve customer service
By using organisation techniques, such as document processing solutions and an outsourced document collection service, you will be able to improve customer service. Problems with organisation can lead to a drop in customer service, which is highly detrimental to any start-up. Customer satisfaction is key to any return business, which is why you need to be organised.
If you have a poor billing system or are constantly losing invoices and important documents, soon your clients will move on to greener pastures (and more organised businesses). If you implement a strategy to become more organised, you will find your customer service improving. This will lead not only to return clients but to new business, as word-of-mouth travels about your professionalism and efficiency.
Keep ahead of the curve
As a start-up, you likely have a lot of competition in your industry. This means that you need to stay organised in order to keep ahead of the curve. By being more organised, you will be able to meet client briefs on time and keep to your schedule. Organisation is important for your start-up because it saves you time, stops you from procrastinating and keeps your employees on track. With improved customer service due to your efficiency, you will soon find your business growing in leaps and bounds.
Want To Jump-Start Your Ecommerce Business? Try A Pop-up Shop
The first thing you need to know: A pop-up isn’t about stocking shelves and hoping people browse. It’s about attaining a ‘wow!’ status.
Facebook talked a good game about its 3-D virtual-reality headset, Oculus Go, during the platform’s annual development conference, F8. Still, the social media behemoth knew that words alone couldn’t make anyone but early adopters fork over the dough.
Consequently, Mark Zuckerberg’s team made a bold, radical departure by opening an Oculus pop-up shop to showcase the company’s newest technology.
Interestingly, the Oculus pop-up was arranged, Foot Locker store-style, to give browsers the opportunity to try the device rather than instantly buy it. Sure, eMarketer predicts ecommerce will exceed the $4 trillion mark by 2020; but, as a Retail Dive survey showed, nearly two-thirds of consumers remain leery of this consumer channel. They want to physically experience merch before handing over their hard-earned cash.
Hence, Facebook gambled, not on its core platform but on the expectation that die-hard, wannabe Facebook and VR fanatics would share their experiences on social platforms, bringing awareness, hype and, eventually, sales, to an emerging product.
Not surprisingly, that was, and is, one smart bet.
We’ve come a long way, baby, but smell-o-vision still isn’t available
What makes a temporary pop-up store such a powerful differentiator? In a nutshell, it’s tactile products. Forget that people are buying stuff online; they still appreciate a solid in-person demo. Plus, a well-managed pop-up is an intriguing prospect: No basic retailer can match the energy, intensity or uniqueness of a fleeting pop-up that’s literally here today, gone tomorrow.
Besides, pop-ups make odd or brow-furrowing products easier to understand. For example: A beeswax alternative to Saran Wrap? It’s tough to envision that product’s inherent value unless you see it in action and get answers to your questions, face to face from an expert.
Ultimately, pop-up stores raise brand awareness and generate loyalty. At the same time, they aren’t the place to make sales – they’re marketing events engaging brand loyalists who love the company’s message and want to interact. Sure, new influencers are bound to stumble upon pop-ups, too, but the truest emotional connections come from people already knowledgeable about the product line.
For example, a Harry’s pop-up shop’s purpose wouldn’t be to introduce guys to its razors. How many would care? Even more important, why would they switch? The pop-up, instead, would be to magnify Harry’s branding by creating an experience for people curious about why they should use its products.
An ideal Harry’s pop-up would offer haircuts, shaves, hipster drinks and other memorable experiences. After getting the best shaves of their lives, super-fans would head online and do some organic referral work to spread the brand’s message.
In response, people who trust those influencers would head out to the pop-up sooner rather than later, worried they’d miss the fleeting chance to see the fuss. Their actions would be all-too-human, according to Shopify: Individuals routinely flock to scarce, novel opportunities. The reason: FOMO is a powerful force.
Eager to get started on your own pop-up adventure? One that gets tongues wagging and fingers swiping? Before you pitch a pop-up tent on the corner green next week, pull in the reins. Pop-up shops require some serious forethought and planning.
1. Choose a location that caters to your audience
When our company put up The Nest pop-up to showcase many of our clients’ brands, we picked a place where our target personas hung out: Abbot Kinney Boulevard, in Venice, Calif. It’s known nationally as one of the country’s most expensive retail streets, putting us in front of the sophisticated, high-end community our brands serve.
After picking the locale, we used the pop-up to highlight a series of rotating brands. At the same time, we kept the atmosphere fun by serving healthy vegan popsicles, playing great music and consistently engaging with visitors. The idea was to create a complete experience from beginning to end, catering solely to the people we wanted to impress.
Your pop-up should be similarly based on your ideal visitors’ profile, whether that might mean a twentysomething socialite or a hip baby boomer. When you know your audience, you can arrange a locale that fits. From that point, you should create landing pages and send emails to your hottest buyers. Take advantage of organic shares and ad-targeting, along with Facebook event-creation and retargeting. Your goal? Pack your launch party (and every day thereafter) with eager faces.
2. Ditch anything that doesn’t elicit a “wow!”
Say it with me: “experiential.” That’s the pop-up mantra. Your only job is to provide a huge, memorable experience. Forget about stocking shelves and hoping people browse – this isn’t How to Run a Lame Mall Kiosk 101.
For instance, when Target set up CityTarget, its Chicago Millennium Park pop-up, the store wasn’t like a typical suburban big box store: Instead, it offered commuters special CityTarget coffee and a few tchotchkes. One morning, CityTarget even set up a spin class. Another day, kids created CityTarget-logo-ed kites from scratch. Its final event? A launch for the full-store version of CityTarget for VIGs, or “very important guests.”
To attain “wow” status, map out every second of the pop-up flow (from the amplified, hyped launch party to the fireworks-inducing last moment). Keep the momentum going with live day events: Workshops, speakers and guest appearances keep the days hopping. Oh, and don’t forget to have a dedicated iPad to capture visitors’ emails and send instant welcome drips.
3. Follow up after the pop-up becomes a memory
Pop-ups are temporary, but impressions are lasting if you re-engage your guests. The Nest lasted three months, and it wasn’t a profitable up-front endeavour. However, we set out to monetise it later by treating it as a marketing exercise to broaden our clients’ brand scopes and widths. By following up, we ultimately made money down the line.
Of course, some pop-ups buck this trend. Toms Shoes is a great example: It started as a fleeting project and ended up becoming a permanent hangout spot in Abbot Kinney. People hang out, work, drink coffee and occasionally buy Toms merch. Still, don’t rely on an immediate profit. The Marc Jacobs pop-up dedicated to its Daisy fragrance sure didn’t. To the contrary, it allowed people to use “social currency” in the form of #MJDaisyChain on Instagram and Twitter.
The way to make money is by taking the valuable connections you make and turning them into evangelists. Reach out via email and thank those who shared social photos. Then, send out coupons to anyone who missed your pop-up.
You don’t have to be Facebook or Target to get significant foot traffic and loyalist love from a pop-up store. All you need is the right location, a solid planning team and a strong after-event marketing plan. Now get out there and make some brag-worthy experiences for your target audience.
Read next: 3 Types Of Ecommerce Business Models
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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