I’ve talked a lot about innovation in the last two posts. Two weeks ago we tackled what innovation really means for your startup, and last week, how you can promote innovation within your company. Today we keep the ball rolling by learning how you can establish a system that consistently sparks ideas and manages these ideas properly for refinement, and later, implementation. 

They say necessity is the mother of innovation, creativity is it’s father, and knowledge is the midwife. This rings true when we recognize that startups have the upper hand when it comes to innovative thinking. What’s more needy, creative and hungry for knowledge than an early-stage startup?

Keeping the pillars of innovation as your true north will define the path you need to take to properly raise your startup and consistently fuel it with ideas.

Creativity

Think about any time you might have been creative, ever… Now, I’ll bet you were either idle, bored or daydreaming, recognizing and/or trying to fulfill a necessity, or bouncing ideas back and forward with a co-worker or a friend. These are all things we naturally tend to do in a startup, especially in the early stages. Even if you’re “crazy busy,” the lack of rigid structure encourages agility and “thinking on your feet.”

How about big companies? 

Well, it’s not easy. Managing so many people within a pre-established company culture, that in turn can’t afford much individuality or agency over one’s responsibilities, is challenging on its own. So the added responsibility of “keeping the creative juices flowing” means there has to be a proper plan to encourage creativity. They need to jumpstart it with team-building exercises, retreats, rewards for proactive workers, etc. And these strategies not only apply for big companies. Startups can also become stagnant, and this type of activities can really make the difference.

Collective intelligence

Whether it comes from outsourcing, offshoring, or a more organic hiring process, startups tend to be more diverse than traditional “big companies.” This also takes into account the size of the operation since early-stage startups employ only a handful of people. This shows in the process of coming up with new ideas and improving upon previous ones. The more diverse the points of view are, the richer the project will become. And the closer co-workers are with each other, the more trust they have in each other’s expertise, and the more ideas can prosper.

In larger companies, or as your startup grows, you still want to promote and maintain enough diversity and familiarity among teammates. This will keep the thought process as synchronized and varied as it needs to be, to innovate and effectively work towards achieving the team’s goals.

Idea management

Having a good idea is not enough. There needs to be a process to consider it, polish it and implement it. Startups can invest most of their energy in this process, but it might not necessarily be well-spent. Big companies on the other hand, may leave the idea management process in the back burner, but they do have a more systematic approach when it comes to handling innovation.

We all know startups tend to get stuck in the “what now?” stage. So to manage ideas more effectively, I suggest you keep an “Idea Box.” This is where all the thoughts targeted towards the company’s improvement can be gathered, regardless of the source.

Once you’ve collected all of the ideas, 3 certain types need to be prioritized: 

1. Methodology suggestions
These ideas have the potential to change and improve how you do things within your company. An employee will usually be the one that comes up with it, or on occasion, an observer who’s familiar with your company’s process might be the one to pitch it in. 

2. Client intel suggestions 
These ideas have the potential of helping you better target your clients and tend better to their needs through a better understanding of their lives, interests, product interactions, etc. The research and development (R&D) team will usually take the reins here, after gathering loads of information for real and potential clients, but the users themselves might also be a direct source. 

3. Market opportunities
These ideas have the potential to improve your product placement, let you reach a wider audience, target a niche, inspire you to integrate new technologies, among other things. They might come from anyone within or outside the organization, but particularly from the people paying special attention to your startup’s market; observing what works, what doesn’t, seeing where it falls short, etc. Constantly acquiring this knowledge opens up a plethora of things it could be useful for.

The R&D director’s desk will get all of these ideas regardless of their origin. Prioritize what’s most strategically relevant, and then improve upon that idea. UserVoice and Get Satisfaction are great tools for this process: they let you use new ideas, see ideas from others, and get suggestions and even a score from actual users. You could also include your employees in this process so they don’t feel any pressure or judgment when suggesting new things or when the team is refining ideas.

I hope you liked today’s article. Next week we’ll talk more about implementing innovation in your startup and how to guide the process of scaling it. If you’re an early-stage startup, feel free to check out my courses and videos, or even schedule a session with me.

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