How Your Startup Can Actually Be Innovative

Don’t just talk about innovation—make it part of your strategy.

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When talking to people about your startup, it is easy to throw around tired buzzwords. “Game-changer.” “Cutting edge.” “Innovative.” 

Unfortunately, there’s not always much bite behind the buzz, and those terms are not typically approached as considerately as they should be. When you say that your company is innovative, what are you really trying to say? 

Innovation implies something unique that either hasn’t been done before or not in exactly the way you are doing it. To be innovative is to solve society’s problems in a way others haven’t thought of. 

Easier said than done, right? If your ideas feel a little stagnant or you’re struggling to come up with something new, try to think back to the first great idea you had. You know, the ultimate lightbulb moment. What was different about it? 

For all of the word’s appearances on “About Us” sections of startup websites or in pitches to potential investors, true innovation can be difficult to achieve. You need a solid strategy to push the boundaries and ensure that being cutting-edge is truly a part of your business plan. 

Whose job is it to keep things fresh? 

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Short answer: Everyone’s. Every single person on your team should have a plan for keeping your company from becoming a one-hit wonder (no offense to the Fountains of Wayne or Men Without Hats of the world). 

Longer answer: Many people are so caught up in their work that they fail to see the bigger picture. They focus on their specific tasks and figure that the burden of generating the next batch of brilliant ideas falls on someone else, perhaps someone higher up the ladder. The truth is that it falls on every member of your team to collaborate and try to think up the next big thing. 

How can you get everyone on the same page?

1. First, have a brainstorming session with the entire team.
Toss around names of the most innovative startups in history. Airbnb. Instagram. WhatsApp. What do they all have in common? (Aside from two of the three getting snatched up by Mark Zuckerberg, that is.) They all filled a gap that people didn’t even realize existed. An alternative to hotels that (usually) won’t break the bank. A social media app just for pictures. An encrypted messaging system, the beauty of which is in its simplicity. Now, what gap do you think you could fill?

Don’t just stop at a single brainstorming session. Have that same meeting every week, and let everyone know they’re expected to both come prepared to make suggestions and stay up to date during the week with any ground-breaking news in your industry. Encourage your team to do research.  

2. Next, take a detailed inventory of your business.
Figure out what existing ideas could stand to have some new life breathed into them. Experiment a little bit, and don’t be afraid to fall on your face. You will brush yourself off and be better for your tumble. Remember the old adage: It is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all. Test the waters on social media or with your current customers and welcome feedback. Crowdsourcing some input could lead to a lightning bolt in the middle of a brainstorm.

3. Finally, make sure that you and your team are solution-oriented and can recognize a quality idea.
Sure, the people behind the toilet paper hat, the subway chin rest, or the motorized ice cream cone probably figured they were being innovative by creating something that had never been done before, but was there really a need for any of those inventions? Tell your people to check out the website of the touring exhibition The Museum of Failure, which catalogs some of the biggest invention flops of all time. Ask your team to imagine that their one task was tweaking the item to suit a real need. How would they improve on each of those items?  

Remember that despite its reputation as a cliche, innovation is the lifeblood of any successful startup. If your team is intelligent, diverse, and excellent at problem-solving, then the next cutting-edge, innovative game-changer is right around the corner.

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