Lessons in innovation from Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson

Consider Richard Branson, Apple, Samsung, Madonna and Lady Gaga. They continually top best sellers lists because they’re always innovating – reinventing themselves in ways that captivate and capture their audiences. The good news is, your small business can do the same.

Many of us are aware that innovation is a good thing. In the recesses of our minds we know we should be innovating. But before we can consider how to innovate we need to think about why it’s a good thing to do.

Many confuse innovation with invention. To innovate, you don’t need to discover something as exciting as the light bulb. Innovation is successful introduction of a new idea to the market place. Invention, is the discovery of a new idea and while some of us are keen inventors, we’re definitely not all that way inclined. Innovation however, is far more attainable.

So, to be a successful innovator and introduce a new idea into the market place successfully, firstly question why this idea is important to your business. Are you innovating to drive sales, stay connected to your customers, maintain a market leadership position, be a market pioneer or grow?

Each day hundreds of businesses innovate however many do not realise the potential of their innovating efforts. Those who are successful at innovation are continually thinking outside the square. They take the time to examine and critique their own business looking at ways to stand out from their competitors. They consult with their customers and their people knowing that many ideas for new innovations lie within their customers and people’s experiences – good and bad. Successful innovators consider current trends and feedback from other early adopters and read widely. In other words they’re ‘worldly’ people. After taking time to do their research, they are better placed to understand, develop and create new products, services, concepts, etc. that can serve their markets well.

One of the most important components to understanding whether your latest innovation will be a success is to field test it with your customers. Find early adopter customers who like to try new things but make sure you explain to them you are trialing the innovation and you want frank and honest feedback. Ask your customers the following questions:

  • What do you currently value about this product or service?
  • What would make your life easier if we were to incorporate it in the next product?
  • What is important to you now and in the future?
  • Why do you buy our product as opposed to the next best one?

It’s a pretty simple approach; take the time to ask the questions and listen to the answers. Questions = Answers. Apple and Samsung are pioneers at listening to their customers.

Any innovation should always pass the test of whether it supports your customer centric sales strategy because if you start innovating in non-related areas this can lead to confusion. If the new idea is great then start a new company but don’t try and make it fit if it doesn’t.

Innovation is creative and exciting and is ignited by an inquiring mind. Use this simple approach: Questions deliver Answers; answers allow you to begin innovating. Asking interested parties questions around What, Which, Why, What if is the best place to start. Even better why not start by asking yourself these questions? It is an approach used by leading coaches around the world and is why coaching is globally recognised for its effectiveness and capacity to help people deliver results. In fact coaching is a form of ‘people’ innovation. Asking powerful questions helps create clarity and delivers answers. You cannot innovate if you do not ask yourself or others questions.

Take Madonna, Lady Gaga, Richard Branson, Apple and Samsung. These brands are continually topping best sellers lists because they are continually innovating – reinventing themselves in ways that captivate and capture their audiences. They intrigue their audiences, their followers and their customers by making them want to know or see more. By continuously innovating they create a certain style that is easily remembered. They never forget to position themselves in the market places they want to be seen in and make sure they repeat the process time and time again allowing consistent branding and market presence. This keeps them top of mind and drives sales.

The purpose of innovating is the key to running a successful business. Innovation gives us opportunity to grow new and existing markets, drive sales, be at the leading edge and stay connected.

Take time out from the daily grind, ask some questions and innovate your way to further success.

- Robyn Creed is Director of Coaching at Barrett Consulting; an end-to-end consulting practice with a reputation in the Australian market as trusted experts and advisors in creating high performing, sustainable people, teams and leaders.

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