Innovation

Last two centuries were the centuries of invention – the current seems like the era of innovation. Very few people, however, seem to truly understand the essence of innovation, what it really is, and how it is just as important, if not more, as invention. Many believe that it is just a buzzword that sounds impressive and heavy but actually lacks any real sense or substance. This is a serious misconception that may limit productivity and potential of individuals as well as organizations.

It is true that innovation is more of an abstract concept as compared to invention. This fact, however, is also what makes it all the more important. Innovation and invention are both processes of creating. In case of invention, it is creation of a product or a process. In case of innovation, value is the main product. Therefore, one can also say that innovation is a process of improvement rather than creation. It is indeed as simple as that.

What causes confusion regarding the concept of innovation is the kind of examples used to explain it. Most people will talk about how Apple innovated the smartphones and stories that involved lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, but innovation is not all about technology. Everyone can be an innovator in everything they do. A teacher, for instance, can be an innovator by introducing a teaching method that facilitates easy and quick learning. A chef can be an innovator by introducing a more efficient technique of slicing vegetables. Da Vinci was an innovator not because he created models for machines of the future but also because he pioneered techniques to add dimensions and depth to his artwork. From art to education and from science to everyday life, innovation is incorporating improvement and creating value through that improvement. So, to put it accurately, innovation is the way forward.

This definition holds true in the world of businesses. We have entered an era where inventions are not as frequent as in the past two centuries. The R&D sector is no longer invested in discoveries and inventions, it is more geared towards innovation because at the end of the day, it is the value that generates revenue. The wheel on innovation is moving at a much faster pace than the wheels of invention and businesses that fail to keep pace fail to survive.

To answer the question, innovation is not a buzzword – it is a necessity and the most crucial key to survival, both on an individual and organizational level.

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Innovation

There’s an old adage which goes “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door”. There’s a lot of business wisdom which focuses on how innovation drives success. It makes sense too if you think about it. If you are selling the best product, naturally you will get the most customers, right? Reality, sadly, does not conform to such simple statements. There are a lot of factors involved in the success of an innovation. If you really have an innovative idea, you don’t have it all, you have only just begun.

An innovative idea is just the start

There are a lot of people with innovative ideas. You’ll meet many people who are new entrepreneurs who will be very passionate about their idea and will love explaining it to you. They will tell you about how their idea is a game-changer and is sure to succeed. The reality is that the innovation is only good if it is applied in the right place and if it is run the right way.

One of the best examples we have of companies innovating and not realizing it comes from the computing industry. Everyone knows about Microsoft and how successful they were. It is easy to think that Google and Apple are bigger but that is only in other arenas. When it comes to computer software and operating systems Microsoft has no competition. They have more than 90% of the global market and have had it for more than 3 decades now. The interesting part is that Microsoft didn’t get their start by innovating.

Microsoft’s first hit in operating systems was MS-DOS, which they did not create; they bought it from another company. They were also lauded for innovating with Windows 3 and by focusing on a visual user interface. They were also lauded for their mouse support and how much better it was to use the computer with a mouse. They were not the first ones to sell either of them.

You can also look at Apple the same way. The iPhone is considered one of the most innovative products out there. The reality is that LG was selling a phone without a keypad almost a year before the iPhone. Android, the operating system, was already being made by a small company. Apple was just the first company to get the smartphone right. Google later bought Android and used it in the right way to succeed.

Why Innovations Fail

Innovations fail for one very simple reason; they need to be what the business is centered around, but they cannot be all that the business is centered around. You have to think of your innovative idea as the engine and your company as the car. Sure, your engine works great, but you need a lot more to make a car work. You need tires, you need good brakes, you need safety for passengers, you need oil to make the engine work, you need proper maintenance of the engine, and much more.

The same is true for business. You do not just need an innovative idea. You need financing to make the idea run, you need smart marketing to make it popular, you need limited liability to make it safe financially, you need a good way for the customers to interact with your idea, and much more.

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Leadership

There has been a lot of talk about how the current generation that just entered the workplace is not hard-working enough. A lot of downright scathing articles can be found in business magazines and websites that disparage millennials and talk about their shortcomings. The one complaint that a lot of leaders these days echo is that the millennial generation thinks of themselves as entitled and does not expect to put in as much of an effort as they themselves did. This is causing a lot of leadership issues.


The reality is that millennials aren’t too different from any other generation that has entered the workplace. The millennials are not entitled. They do not ask for too much. They are actually one of the most open minded and tolerant generations we have ever seen. Millennials aren’t the problem – the environment they grew up in is the problem. Good leadership requires and understanding of the motivation of the people working under the leader thus it is essential for business leaders to understand what makes millennials tick.

Millennials do not have financial security


Here’s the biggest reason that so many leaders think that millennials are entitled: they have no idea how vulnerable millennials are. They are one of the most disadvantages generations since the great depression ended.

A lot of people who are business leaders these days started their careers out in the 70s, 80,s or the 90s. What people do not understand is that it was a booming time for business and one of the best times for the middle class in the developed world.

Leadership Financial Carrot

It was possible for a person flipping burgers to buy a car and start paying off their student loans. Someone flipping burgers today can barely pay their bills. It was possible to have an entry level job and afford a house in the suburbs. Entry level workers nowadays cannot even afford rent – many of them end up living with roommates simply because their entry level jobs cannot cover their expenses.

More young people are living with their parents now than ever before simply because they cannot afford to move out even with jobs.


Millennials do not believe in the system


The lack of financial security means they do not believe in the system. A hardworking fast food employee could buy a car or pay their college tuition. People used to work hard not because the previous generations had hard-work in their genes, but because they knew they would get something out of it. They knew that if they flipped burgers for a year they will be able to save a little money. They knew that if they stuck in the job for a year or two they will easily be able to afford a house and raise a family.


Millennials do not believe in the systemThe current generation has no carrot in front of it; it only has a stick behind it. It doesn’t have a carrot in front of it because they are barely scraping by. They don’t really see many job prospects and are worried about their futures. You cannot expect someone in such a situation to be chirpy and motivated about a stupid job.

We did not have problems with ‘stupid mindless’ jobs because while the jobs were stupid the pay wasn’t. Nowadays millennials look for jobs that offer them validation and self-worth because they know they won’t be able to get by on just the little amount of money they make.


Leadership for the current generation means making the current generation believe in their being a carrot in front of them. It means outlining clear career progression paths and explaining how they can grow in the company. If you cannot seem to connect with the millennials, you need to start taking their problems seriously.

 

 

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Innovation

Anyone with an innovative idea will be able to tell you that innovation alone isn’t enough to guarantee success. Innovation is the start of a business – a lot more is needed to make it work. If you have an innovative idea and want to make sure that you are able to make something out of it, you don’t just need to focus on the core idea, but on many different factors. Here are a few things you need to ensure.

Financial Backing

The first thing you are going to need as an innovator is financing. If your idea is small then go to the bank and see how you can get a business loan. If your idea requires a large investment, go talk to different venture capitalists. There is another big advantage to looking for financing; you get your idea vetted, and that too by professionals. No one will rip apart your idea like the people who you ask to fund it. Even if they say no they will end up telling you why they are saying no. You may be alerted to some fatal flaws in your business plan while you can still fix thm. You will also find out the true viability of your innovation.

Realistic Costing

Costing is hard. Costing isn’t fun. Costing might reveal some things you may not want to know. These are just some of the reasons many innovators try to avoid focusing on costing. They know it is important but they try to put it off as much as they can. You need realistic costing to judge the viability of your innovation. If you have built a better product you need to make sure it is affordable as well.

Many entrepreneurs find out that their product will cost much higher than promised and end up realizing they are in too deep now to change things. Virtual Reality headsets are a great example. 2 years ago the biggest VR company announced that their VR headset will cost around 300 dollars at launch. They recently released it at more than 600 dollars and customers were not happy.

The right people

No matter how great your idea is, it will not be successful unless you have the right people handling it. Your team needs to know what needs to be done and they need to be capable. At the same time you also have to focus on your managerial style. You cannot create stress for your core team and you should not panic in front of them. You need people you can depend on and that only comes with trust. You will need to be an excellent judge of character to be able to determine who is the right person to hire and who isn’t. You also have to make sure you never get into a petty argument or situation with any employee. Too many good companies have failed because the manager’s attitude was not right or because their egos were too big.

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Entrepreneurship

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. Most people end up failing at it. The reason that so many people fail isn’t necessarily because their idea was bad, they fail because they didn’t avoid the many traps that entrepreneurs face. If you want to succeed not just at starting a company but also at running a company whose success can be sustained, you need to be on the lookout for these pitfalls.

The Money Trap

There are many great entrepreneurs who never got the funding for their idea. There are also many companies started by entrepreneurs that were hurt not by a lack of money, but by an abundance of it. This trap is simple yet too many companies fall into it. When the company gets its first round of financing everyone is happy and in a celebratory mood. Entrepreneurs start spending money to spruce up the office. Suddenly the company has a chef, has an artist painting murals on the walls, and is hiring highly talented people at exorbitant salaries. Your first round of financing should be for small and smart investments. Do not end up spending and investing so much that you cannot sustain the business when the funding runs out.

The Innovation Trap

The innovation trap is when the entrepreneur is so convinced that their idea is innovative that they start ignoring signs of danger. It might seem stupid but this has happened in a lot of companies. Whole companies were shutdown and when the employees were interviewed they all say that they saw the end coming. The entrepreneur is so focused on their idea and its innovation that they think it cannot fail. Giving pitches after pitches makes them believe too much in their own words and it can be their own downfall.

The Entrepreneur Trap

Entrepreneurs have almost become legendary figures in the world of business. New entrepreneurs think they are great as well. This isn’t wrong; you need to have some ego and pride in order to compete in the world of business. The problem is that they begin thinking that they are the only people who know how the business should be run. We read all the time about successful entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and many more. What we do not read about are the hundreds of people these entrepreneurs trust to vet their idea. These people only take decisions on the basis of business intelligence. You need to do the same.

The Small Innovation Trap

The most common type of innovation is a small modification in an existing product. The only problem is that if you try to base your business around a small innovation it is very easy for bigger companies to eat you up. If you think up an idea for a toothbrush that is better than the ones being created right now, you need to come out swinging. If you start as a small company you will not be able to compete with the billion dollar behemoths in the dental care industry. They will simply change their products to be similar to yours and win. Another big reason is their low cost. Due to marginal costing the more product you make, the lesser it costs per product. The billion dollar companies will be making toothbrushes at such a low rate that they will be able to price you out.

There are many other things you need to look out for. Being a successful entrepreneur means that you need to be able to see where things are headed. You need to be realistic with your vision and choose a path that is actually viable.

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Leadership

Leadership means being able to lead people. It means having the ability to change the way things are done. Followers are nothing without a leader, true, but a leader is nothing without followers either. One cannot be a captain without a ship or a king without a throne. Similarly, one cannot be a leader unless they have loyal followers.

A lot of people complain about loyalty in the business world. They say that the people who work under them are ungrateful or undependable. They talk about how the people under them often go missing without a notice or leave for another job after they have spent valuable time training them.

Do you know what all the people who complain about these things are missing? Loyal followers. We need to understand what loyalty is and what we keep getting wrong about loyalty.

A true leader has loyal followers. Sadly, there are many misconceptions among business leaders which prevent them from cultivating loyalty.


Understanding Loyalty and it’s link to selfishness

Leadership Loyalty Hope

A lot of people think that loyalty means not being selfish and instead doing what the leader says.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Loyalty is not the lack of selfishness; it is the harnessing of selfishness. People aren’t loyal to you because they are willing to sacrifice their own progress for you.

People are loyal to you because they believe that you are going to do things better for them than they would be able to do on their own.

Loyal people are selfish too – but they are selfish people who truly believe that you have their betterment in your mind and that the decisions you take will be good for them. That is why they follow the leader – not because they are sycophants who need to be told what to do, but because they believe that the leader is intelligent enough that they will make the best decisions for everyone.


We need to decouple business leadership from military leadership

LeadershipRead business leadership books, watch leadership talks, or listen to leadership lectures, and you will notice a lot of military stories and examples. People will talk about how the military leaders led the soldiers to victory and how there is a lesson in there for all of us. The reality is that there is no lesson for business leadership in military leadership. Militaries are full of people who love the country and have agreed to do whatever it takes to protect the country. They are willing to risk their lives in foreign lands to ensure no one can touch their homeland.

Business leaders, on the other hand, are trying to order around people who just want to make enough money so they have food and they can buy nicer clothes. Unless your company has employees that are willing to die for the company military leadership is not an ideal example to follow. Many managers get frustrated about ‘disobedience’ or ‘disloyalty’ from their followers. Understand that this isn’t an army and you are not leading a charge against the enemy. People aren’t going to be loyal to you just because you say so.

Instead, you need to give them a reason to be loyal to you. Stand up for them and look out for them. No person will follow you if they think you do not care about them. True business leaders are those who are followed by people who trust the knowledge and experience of the leaders. You need to inspire a vision in your people if you want them to be loyal. More importantly – they need to be rewarded. You need to actually care about people if you want them to follow you wherever need.

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Innovation

You’ll read a lot of motivational articles on the internet about being an entrepreneur. People write about entrepreneurs the way people used to write about magicians a few decades ago. Like entrepreneurs have some special powers and are destined for greatness. As motivational as these pep talk articles are, that is all they are – pep talk.

You will notice that most of these articles are written by writers who aren’t entrepreneurs themselves but are working for a magazine or a blog. Even worse are the articles that entrepreneurs write themselves; for too often, these aren’t really articles but an advertisement for their business masquerading as an article.

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone

The reality is that being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. Entrepreneurship is a risky venture and it requires a certain temperament. The reality is that most people just do a job their whole lives and they are happy with their decision. To the young it seems like entrepreneurship is the only way to make money but there are plenty more. You have to understand that choosing entrepreneurship means losing stability. If you are happy with receiving an almost guaranteed paycheck every month then you don’t need to start your own thing. If you aren’t happy then we need to talk. If you really want to become an entrepreneur here is what you are going to need.

Drive

Motivation isn’t the biggest factor for entrepreneurs; drive is. One of the biggest reasons many entrepreneurs fail is that they fall behind in what they need to do. If you were to give them a set of instructions, they would be able to complete them easily. Entrepreneurs, however, do not have anyone telling them what to do. They have to initiate every task. It is easy to motivate someone to start running every day but it takes drive for them to get up every morning and go for a run.

Backups

You will often hear stories of famous entrepreneurs who failed miserably in their history and got their second chance right. The lesson to be learnt isn’t that it is okay to fail but that you should only fail enough so that you can go back. All the entrepreneurs who failed at first but later succeeded limited their damage. If you risk too much in one idea you may not be able to try another idea ever again. You need to have a backup plan. Not only will it help you if you fail, it will also allow you to succeed by lowering your stress/panic levels and allowing you to think wit ha cool head.

Vision

We aren’t talking about the clichéd “I’m going to be a billionaire with the biggest company” vision. We are talking about real vision, the vision that lets you see. Too many entrepreneurs fail simply because they don’t understand what makes their idea work and who makes them work. They end up involving themselves in petty disputes with their own employees as well as competitors and miss the forest for the trees. You need to be a good judge of character to surround yourself with the right people. You need to be able to realistically see whether your idea is viable or just something you are passionate about.

There are a lot of other things that will help you succeed but none are as important as the above three. As long have the drive to put in the work, the backups to bounce back from small failures, and the vision to realize what you really need to do, you will be able to do it.

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