This months issue of Fast Company Magazine profiled The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies. As I flipped through the pages soaking up hundreds of brilliant innovations, I thought about what innovation means to me now compared to what it meant to me back when I began my entrepreneurial adventure.
Had I read this issue back in 2003, I would have sat around for hours trying to brainstorm my “big idea”. After all, if I was ever going to innovate I would need to have an idea as great as the ones that Google or Nike had.
Now, in 2008, I’m able to look deeper into the stories and understand the true causes behind the innovation. Ideas are a very, very small part of the majority of great innovations. Most great innovations come from a recognition of a recurring problem that a company encounters repeatedly and has the foresight to come up with a creative solution. It’s less about ideas and more about discovering opportunities that other people have failed to see or exploit. Most of the time, you only find those opportunities if you are working passionately at your craft each and every day for years.
“Innovation” is largely synonymous with “great new idea”, but I’m telling you that most of these companies spent years recognizing and developing products and processes that led to their innovations. It’s (relatively) easy for Apple to come out with an iPhone with the last 20 years of market research, consumer research, product design experience, supply chain experience, etc. If you or I had the “idea” for the iPhone in 2002, we’d probably still be looking for enough capital to try to get it to market. The idea itself is essentially worthless.
Tying this all back to me: my entrepreneurial goal has always been to innovate. Innovation is how we improve the world around us, and I see great personal satisfaction in providing things that make the world even the tiniest bit better. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s offline or online, for profit or not for profit. Even if I had a billion dollars I’d still try to innovate.
I’ve talked a lot about how I feel like our shopping cart software for Detailed Image is one of our competitive advantages. As I was working on subtle features and additions for Tastefully Driven that will result in it blowing DI out of the water, I thought about how all of these daily micro-innovations will result in one big innovation. By 2010 maybe we’ll be featured in some magazine for our unique shopping cart community. Some kid will be reading it and think “man, I wish I could have an idea like that.” Not realizing that DI was in existence for 2+ years running osCommerce before we even attempted to build our own cart. And that DI was running the new cart for 6 months before developing the Tastefully Driven cart/community. And that the majority of features that make it great in 2010 hadn’t even entered our minds in 2008.
Want to be an innovator? Work hard. Pay attention to your customers. Analyze data. Learn like there’s no tomorrow. Open yourself to opportunities. Execute – every single day.
PS – I’ve been wanting to write this post for about a week, but my cold combined with all of our stupid roadblocks have been pissing me off so much that I digressed the last few posts. Today we finally got our heat back on – turns out the oil company thought our 1,000 gallon tank was full when they filled it a few weeks ago. It was empty and they put in only 27 gallons. Wow.