I participate when I can in a Twitter-based chat session, called Innochat. It happens every Thursday around noon USA eastern time. Most of the participants are innovation geeks like myself, consultants, writers, company innovation directors, professors, etc. — tune in, it’s interesting. Last Thursday we were chatting about innovation books. There are a ton of innovation books out there, some of which I’ve reviewed here. The insight that seemed to dawn on several of us at the same time is that there really isn’t a great innovation book geared for small business. Scott D. Anthony’s recent Little Black Book of Innovation comes close, but, forgive me for saying so, there is a certain “MBA-speak” (and just MBA ‘think’) even in his really good book.
Speaking in Oklahoma at their Creativity Forum last fall I spontaneously asked a group of about 200 if they had an “innovation plan.” The audience was nearly all small business people. Not a single person raised their hand. I followed up with “okay, I’m not even talking a formal plan, but anything written down at all guiding your efforts?” A few hands went up, like, three. And yet they must be innovating something or they wouldn’t be in business; for them, it’s organic, and intuitive. There is good news to this and bad. Good, that they are doing innovation, bad, that they may not be able to sustain it, or up their game, without a bit more knowledge.
It’s ironic really because small business is a huge source, maybe even the primary source, of innovation. Small business people don’t have a lot of time to read academic tomes and scientific studies of innovation process. More classic business books about innovation tend to be pretty dry, and geared towards Fortune 5000 innovation. Small business people pretty much have to get up early and get on with it. For them, it’s all about action — because that’s what it takes to survive. Small business people are like water running through the market place, looking for places to go, flowing around, behind, above, below, and through all obstacles, innovating all the way. Unfortunately, as hard as small businesses try to survive and thrive, a huge percentage fail, on average about half. The top reason: Lack of Experience.
Now, part of lack of experience isn’t just not knowing the business area or market. Everybody is flying blind when opening up new markets. If it were obvious where to start a new company, everybody would be doing it. Lack of experience then, is more about not changing fast enough — ignoring the feedback the market is giving you. The best entrepreneurs I’ve worked with aren’t brilliant as much as flexible. They adjust to what’s happening and somehow find a way to make it work. Now, this talent isn’t experience in the normal way we think of it is it? It’s not about having done it before, it’s more about seat-of-the-pant analysis, intuitive adjustment, and continuous creative problem solving. These are essential “experience” skills for small business survival. Almost nobody teaches it, and this is all about Innovation isn’t it? Finding something that is just new and different enough to draw in buyers.
It has to be new and different to attract customers — and that means innovation.
What’s needed in my view is a survival guide for small business people. It would be all about how to innovate, how to survive, how to grow. Small people need a different kind of guidance than the Mis-Fortune 5000. They need more basic innovation advice, hacks if you will, or “guerrilla” strategies and tactics. It would need to be about half about entrepreneurship, because they are tackling two big challenges at once: 1.) how to start and run a small business, and 2.) how to make something people will buy.
Consider this the introduction to Guerilla Strategies for Innovation. For the first chapter, go here: