Category » Entrepreneur

Innovation “on the cheap”

Innovation is critical for business success. This blog explains a simple innovation framework that any company can use.

For years now we’ve all heard that we need to be more innovative.  Large companies have invested millions or more in their version of an “innovation lab”.  Some of these labs have produced terrific ideas.  The question is how those of us running companies without millions to invest can be innovative.

In response to this need, GreatRidge put together an innovation framework.  We’ve used it informally at a couple of companies, and it has worked well.  The concept is pretty simple and doesn’t have to cost a ton of money to implement.  It is scalable and will grow with your company as needed.

The framework components are:

  • Create an “Innovation Council”. This is a small group of people who are good at motivating others to think outside the box.  The council should have members who are employees, contractors, and outsiders to the company.  This will foster creativity.  The council meets no more than monthly for a few hours.
  • Focus the Council. One of the common missteps in innovation is that people are given free reign to innovate in whatever area they want.  While this may work great for a global conglomerate, it can be the death of a medium size business.  Just like entrepreneurs with too many ideas (I wrote about this in a previous blog post), an innovation council without boundaries often wanders the desert with no clear focus.  Establish a strategy for the council and target the innovation activities.  If other ideas come up, save them for another more appropriate time.
  • Structure the Ideas. Like any set of unstructured data, the value of the information can only be realized once the unstructured data is structured.  There are tools available for purchase to manage the idea generation lifecycle (check out www.spigit.com for a really cool tool), but medium size businesses don’t need something this expansive.  A simple, well-structured, sharepoint site will do the trick.  A simple set of “toll gates” for each idea with some basic criteria for each gate would suffice (sample gates: idea definition; idea design (how would it work?); implementation considerations/plans).
  • Track and Evaluate Ideas. No matter how large or small a company is, the need a way to track ideas as they develop and a methodology to evaluate the ideas.  The tracking is easy (see the sharepoint comment above), and the evaluation doesn’t have to be complex.  A good evaluation methodology takes into account the idiosyncrasies of each individual business, industry, and leader preferences.  You can still make “gut decisions” if you like, but tracking the ideas and having a consistent way to present ideas for evaluation adds enough structure to the process to ensure good ideas don’t get overlooked.
  • Reward the winners! Always a good idea, but particularly valuable where innovation is desired.  These rewards can be in whatever form is consistent with your corporate culture (e.g. money; paid time off; an idea statue; chocolate bars emblazoned with the winning innovator’s face; water bottles heralding the idea on the label; etc.).  The more creative and original the reward, the more linkage to the concept of innovation!
  • Post Innovation Review. This is the part where innovation ends and the cold reality of company profitability begins.  At some point companies must decide whether the innovation worked or not.  This is necessary since unbridled innovation usually masks corporate waste and none of us can afford to waste time, resources, or money.  The innovation review is as simple as seeing whether the expected metrics were achieved or not and then deciding whether to invest more in this innovation, stop investing, or make a few changes and continue on the current path.  It doesn’t have to be painful (have the review at the local pub if you want to), but it must be done.

GreatRidge believes that not only any company can innovate, but that every company must innovate.  Hopefully this simple innovation framework will enable your company to innovate without stress and strain.  Let us know your thoughts and any ideas you have to increase innovation in your business.


Lessons from Inc’s GROWCO conference – really!

I attended the Inc GROWCO conference and learned a lot. This blog contains the highlights of the conference.

If you read my previous blog (The Value of Conferences – is there any?) you know I’m not a big fan of conferences as a rule.  I followed my advice about how to make a conference valuable, and got a lot of useful information at the GROWCO conference.  The conference is for the owners of small to medium businesses and is focused on ideas for growth.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Data is still king! No matter how much you know in your heart that you have a great idea, without some sort of data to back it up your idea will never get funded.  Forrester has research on just about any idea you have that needs data to back it up.
  • Who cares about you? Figure out the 50 most important people to the growth of your company (external folks, not employees) and measure the strength of your relationships with them.  Figure out how to improve the relationships for any that are not where they need to be.  Keith Ferrazi has some great information on this idea.
  • It’s all about the people. Every company should have a relationship plan.  Most companies have a financial plan, product or services plan, customer management plan, etcetera, but very few have relationship plans.  A relationship plan is a specific, measureable, prioritized list of ways to improve your important relationships.  I’ve always had relationship maps in my strategic planning, but I’ve now expanded that to be a true relationship plan.
  • I am stunting my company’s growth. We were asked to think a moment about our “career crippling habits” (or “company growth crippling habits”).  This was a terrific question.  It made me think about what I’m not doing that could help grow the company.  I figured out that I spend so much time working on things and checking off my “to do list” that I hadn’t really leveraged people who have offered to help me.  That’s crazy!  If you are one of the folks who have offered to help, watch your email ‘cause requests are coming your way!
  • Analyze your revenue streams. OK, so we all knew to do this already.  What I learned at the conference was that I was being pretty narrow in my analysis and interpretation of the revenue streams.  I came up with a different way to look at the revenue streams and it shed a lot of light on my profitability.  It really reinforced where my growth will come from and what I need to be focused on building.  OK…so the presentation I went to didn’t have this in it, but since I thought of it while in the meeting, I’m giving the conference credit for the idea!

I’ll wrap this up with my favorite quote of the meeting (paraphrased of course).  Move boldly with “reckless abandon wrapped in common sense”.  I have no idea who said this and whether it was original or not, but I thought it really summarized my approach to building businesses.  We have to get off the dime and move to grow a business and as long as we do so with common sense, we’ll be fine!


‘Tis the season for planning

While we are enjoying the holidays our businesses must continue.  How well your business finishes 2009 and starts 2010 is dependent upon good planning.  Although plans without action are not very useful, actions without plans can be very harmful.  Below are five tips for planning success.

  1. Set aside dedicated planning time.  It is easy for planning to be “rescheduled” due to immediate priorities.  Everyone has urgent items that keep taking precedence over planning and strategic thinking.  During the holidays is a great time to focus on planning.  Be sure to set aside a day or half-day to plan for 2010.
  2. Define clear objectives for planning.  A good plan does not get created by accident.  You need an approach to make the plan come alive.  Create an agenda for your planning session.  Even if you are the only one doing the planning, know what your objectives are for the plan and attack them.  Whether you will be growing your business through acquisition, expansion, or new products and services, all of your activities need clear objectives and measures of success.  Be sure you have objectives for your planning as well and consider all areas of your business: sales and marketing, infrastructure, product development, support services, customer care, company leadership, your competitors, etc.  Whether you need to make major changes, protect the base, or create a market, a stable plan with clear objectives is essential.
  3. Invite advisors – but not friends.  Friends are great and can be very supportive.  They are a necessary part of any successful business, but you need your trusted advisors to participate in planning.  You need advisors who will challenge you and push you to excel.  They should help you identify your blindspots and assist in identifying ways to drive the business forward.  Stay focused during the planning and make the best use of the talent available to you.  Be open to new ideas, prioritize the ideas to be implemented, and then send your advisors away.  Now you need some “alone time” with your leadership team.
  4. Turn strategies into Tactics.  A plan is only as good as your ability to execute it.  Take the strategies you’ve identified and determine how they will be implemented.  Answer questions like: How much will this cost?; How soon will I get a return on my investment?; Can I afford to do this now — can I afford not to?; What other resources do I need?  Once you have each strategy defined, go back and be sure you have a holistic plan that includes the “baseline” efforts you perform today as well as any new activities.  This will ensure you have an integrated plan that can succeed.
  5. GO!  Be strategic at least a few minutes each day.  Things don’t change overnight, but without effort, they never change.  Spend a few minutes every day making sure you are sticking with your plans.  Don’t be afraid to abandon something if it isn’t working out, just do so consciously and not because you didn’t have time to think about it.  Measure your progress and hold yourself accountable for the successful implementation of the strategies.

If you spend the time now to create a good plan for 2010, you will reap the rewards.  You will be more confident in your business model and everyone on your team will know where the company is headed.  They will have a plan to rally around, and they will help it succeed.

Enjoy the holidays and have a great 2010!


Starting A New Venture

Many people are considering starting a new venture.  Each of them will go through a predictable set of steps to find the venture that is best for them.  Starting a new company can be daunting and the needs of the entrepreneur will change over time.  Below are the typical steps an entrepreneur goes through when starting a new venture.

  • “I’m Done!” – the desire to start a new company is often precipitated by an event that makes it clear the current venture is no longer of interest.  This event could be of their choosing, or could be caused by an external force such as the economy, their boss, their spouse, or any number of other factors.
  • “What do I do now?” – even though you know you don’t want to continue what you are doing, you are probably not sure what you want to do next.  During this time of uncertainty, the most important thing is to have the support of your family, friends, mentors, and past co-workers.  They cannot decide what your next venture will be, but they do provide the encouragement for you to continue.
  • “I can do anything!” – once an entrepreneur starts to consider ideas there is often a flood of potential ventures to select.  They are literally drowning in ideas.  At this point in the process what is needed is someone to help them focus on the most promising idea.  This assistance focusing is often found through trial and error until you find the person that helps keep you on track.  It may not be someone you currently know.  You will need an unbiased viewpoint to determine which idea could work.
  • “This idea might work” – during this phase of starting a new venture you have picked the idea with the most promise, and are ready for the next steps.  Now all you have to do is prove your business model can succeed.  This requires a combination of detailed analysis, prototyping, selling, and building a team.
  • “It works!” – now that the idea is proven, you need to add the structure to help it scale and grow successfully.  Too much structure will overwhelm the business and too little will allow the business to wander off course.  This is a delicate balance requiring the ability to identify and build structures which can grow with the business without having to be replaced and rebuilt.  After all, money is scarce!
  • “I’m Done!” – at some point you will be finished with this business also.  It could be a result of being bought or you may have developed a new passion for another idea.  You should realize this from the beginning and always have your ”exit strategy” defined in advance.  You may never execute the exit strategy as planned, but having it will provide a framework for many of the decisions you will make along the way.

There is no one right or wrong way to start a new venture.  What is important is that you leverage the skills and capabilities of others as well as your own.  As long as there is forward progress and your ideas are vetted quickly you will succeed with the cycle of starting a new venture.  Good Luck!