What is innovation? What is leadership?
A few words come to mind. Passion. Innovation. Creativity. Belief.
We tend to think of small businesses as having a disadvantage when competing with the bigger companies around the world. I think it’s the other way around…
Small companies have a strong advantage because of their amazing capacity for innovation and creativity. Let’s delve deeper into what sets these small businesses a part and how they can set themselves up for success by utilizing these advantages.
I have been having a lot of conversations with people about what it takes to be innovative and to set yourself a part – in life and in work. So, I decided to share with you what conclusions I have drawn and several stories I have come across in my conversations and research.
Why are startups and small businesses so much more innovative than large corporations?
Large companies have access to the best that money can buy and can bring in as many people as needed to “innovate” for them. So, why are they not as innovative as the smaller players?
Creativity and innovative thinking is not spurred by having a bunch of money thrown at it. It most often comes when there is a lack of resources at your disposal and you need to compete with the big guys who have everything. It also comes with passion. And let’s face it…if you are running your own business, you should love what you are doing!
Small businesses and startups actually have an amazing advantage in that they are forced to maintain a creative edge in how they operate and market themselves. Even the simple things that need to be done (gathering client information, organizing systems, etc.), where big companies would just pay for a solution, can have a creative and hopefully free alternative. Remember this next time you are trying to find a solution that you don’t have the budget to fix. Look at it as an opportunity to try something unique.
Every day you can see success stories with small, unheard-of companies that become famous overnight. Take a look at how a funny little video helped Naama Bloom launch her company HelloFlo, the female answer to Dollar Shave Club. All she wanted was to make an inexpensive video that would be funny and eye catching to help get brand awareness. It went viral and launched her business!
And here is what a museum did to attract visitors in Holland. They brought a Rembrandt painting to life in the middle of a mall. You can watch the video here.
This of course is a rule-of-thumb. There are passionate individuals that naturally have a talent for creative thinking – motivating themselves to come up with unique ways of doing business and marketing their products/ideas.
A great example of creative marketing within a large corporation is the well-known and loved Old Spice commercials. They needed to change the market perception of their brand to make it young and hip. They took a leap of faith, went low-budget, and it worked!
Why do you do what you do?
There is a second layer to being innovative that is highly important to think about. This second concept applies to large and small companies alike. It is the model for inspirational leadership – the Golden Circle. The concept of starting with the Golden Circle and the question “why” has been popularized by Simon Sinek, author and motivational speaker. He preaches about leading with the question “why” on TED, which you can see here, using Apple, Martin Luther King and the Wright Brothers as great examples.
Apple (a large corporation), Martin Luther King (a civil rights activist) and the Wright Brothers (inventors and aviation pioneers) are three completely different examples of inspirational leaders. But they all understood, whether consciously or subconsciously, the path to connecting with an audience (i.e. customers). They pitched the WHY of what they were doing. They believed in the WHY. Their audience believed in the WHY. And they are all proven successful – because these stories aren’t new to you.
I want to focus on the last example. Small businesses – listen up! This is a story for you! The Wright Brothers were two brothers that were not well known and did not have large resources at their disposal. They were competing with large groups that had the tops brains money could buy, one of which was headed by Samuel Pierpont Langley, to create a “flying machine”. No one knew of the Wright Brothers, but they are the ones we remember today. Why? They were driven by a passion for flying. They never gave up and the how and what they were doing was driven completely by this passion – the WHY. Sinek tells the story far better than I do if you would like to hear more – start at 8:10 in the video.
What can you take from this?
I started with the concept of being in a situation where you, as a small business, have to find innovative solutions. Why? Because you need to first understand that you have a great advantage over larger corporations. Now that you are feeling inspired by this, you can focus on the core of your business. Remember that having passion for what you do is not enough. You need to fundamentally understand why you do what you do. Why are you operating your own business? What is your goal? Money is a means to an end. Yes, we all need to make money. But why did you take on the risk of your own business? What are you selling? Why are you selling it?
Build up your circles and develop your why in a clear statement. That is what you are going to sell. The why of what you do. Then look at how you work and what you need to do to make your business successful and identify where you can find alternative solutions. Plan out your budget and get motivated to find ways to innovate! Having fewer resources at your disposal isn’t always a weakness. It can be the source of inspiration for creative solutions to your problems.