The other day, someone told me while it was easier to start a business in this day and age, it is hard to do a good business due to depressed profits, and intense competition. My response was straight to point, businesses who fail to innovate can only complain. We simply cannot expect a business model that worked in the past to be working today, with no considerable changes. Otherwise, retails giants like Sears and Toys”R”us in the US would still continue to thrive.
Innovation – you never arrive
The word “innovation” has been thrown around alot in the past few decades, although many fail to understand the real meaning – you never arrive. Innovation is an ongoing game of continuous improvement. Once you stop improving, you might as well give up the mantle. Many entrenched businesses who pioneered cutting edge technology only a few years before, ended up last in the race because they failed to understand that innovation is a marathon.
Nokia phones were everywhere at the turn of the 21st century, and everyone in the industry thought they were infallible. Alas, an OS maker, named Android who made operating systems with the intention to link up cameras, ate away at their market share, and made a relatively unknown Taiwanese company (HTC) very rich. It was clear that sheer confidence (or fear of change) lead to their demise when Nokia repeatedly stamped out phones in their Symbian OS without much improvements.
How should the common man innovate?
So what does it leave us? Constant fear of being disrupted? Well, you do not need to be high up in the tech chain to be innovating. In fact, just by keeping your game consistent (like running a marathon), you actually will be far ahead than most of your competition in due time. Here are some ways we the common people can innovate:
1. Spend part of your budget to experiment
Do not assume that when business is good, you are doing all the right things. Say your business has been generating a lot of revenue from Facebook ads, do not assume it will be the same moving forward. Test new advertising channels, and always look for growth. Having a budget to experiment with various ideas also gives you the reason not to be afraid of change.
2. Be paranoid
There is no better way to stay ahead of your competition than being paranoid. Why do you think Facebook and Google spends billions each year buying up companies? Why do you think they spend equally as much recruiting top tech talents even before they graduate? Of course, for guys who have smaller budget, you can always consider doing some basic competitor research and try to do better.
3. Admit your mistakes
No one likes to admit they were wrong. However, the market is quite transparent these days, and if you mess up (or your team did), do not try to hide it. Instead, rectify it as soon as possible before social media trolls destroy you. Do not become like Comfort or SingPost, who for a long time refused to acknowledge the chronic problems they had – only to be punished by the market in an avalanche.
Let’s run the marathon. We will never arrive – but we will be safe as we are ahead of others.