An innovation mindset: think like an entrepreneur

 Cultivated by the world's most successful business leaders, the 'innovation mindset' is something every small business owner can learn from.

“The only way you survive is to continuously transform into something else. It’s this idea of continuous transformation that makes you an innovative company,” says Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM.

More than invention

Innovation isn’t just about inventing something new – it’s also about improving, advancing and modernising things that already exist in and outside of your business.

The innovation process starts with identifying an issue, and then trying to resolve it by reframing the way we think about challenges in business.

“When you see a problem—rather than seeing it as a problem and something to interrupt the business of business—see it as an opportunity to improve and change. Ask yourself: is there a way to solve this problem forever? If you fix this one thing, will life become easier, better or faster?” says Red Balloon Founder Naomi Simson.

An innovation mindset

Moving to an innovation mindset is about bringing the basic principles of innovation into your everyday thinking, and aligning this with your actions to make your business better. It means always thinking about ways to improve the status quo, and addressing challenges that impact your business both now and potentially in the future.
"Businesses are a moving organism that have to change every year. I think there are new problems all the time and that influences me. It's that continual journey of creating," says Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice, Salsa's Fresh Mex Grill, Cibo Espresso and Hatch.

Even if you don't think of yourself as an innovator, you can learn to adopt an innovation mindset which sets you up for success.

“I never thought I was creative or innovative," says former personal trainer Jane Erbacher, who now has several successful health and wellbeing business ventures under the The ME Project banner. "It came from desperation - I had no means of income and thought 'how can I package my people and fitness skills together?' A few weeks later I launched JanYOUary and that kicked off The ME Project. The key to being innovative is having confidence in what you already know”.

When asked if an innovation mindset has had a positive impact on her business, Erbacher laughs and says “It’s my whole business. If I wasn’t innovative I’d be a PT working for someone else and I’d be really dissatisfied and unhappy. It’s allowed me to have the lifestyle I want. I’m about to go on a two-month trip around America running rowing workshops and that came from having the guts to just do it.”

Jane Erbacher, former personal trainer and founder of the ME Project

An innovation mindset has been critical to the success of Jane Erbacher's businesses.

Thinking about doing something new?

Erbacher has been through the process of trying to work out what to do next and her advice is, "Start with passion (the why). Figure out what your passion is – what do you believe in? What gives you the most joy and excitement in life? What does no one ever have to remind you about? What makes you think, 'Yes I get to do this today'?" I’m super clear on that and that's what guides what I decide to do in my business."

"Then figure out how you can include that in every single day and what that looks like. A lot of people start with what their product or job will be then (the how before the why), then they get stuck because they can’t figure out how they’re going to do it better or differently to other people who are already doing it. Start with what you’re curious about and have faith that out of action comes clarity."

Erbacher says doing more and agonising less is the key.

"Adopt an action-oriented approach, rather than wanting clarity before taking action which is what most people do and get stuck. You don’t know your path so don’t be afraid if you start going in a different direction."

She says it's also important to accept that challenges and discomfort are a natural part of the change process.

"The most exciting bit is when something isn’t working - it’s not a bad thing it’s an opportunity. You’ve always got to get uncomfortable for something to change. If you take that approach everything else falls out of that. As soon as you allow yourself some space it’s amazing what you can actually create.”


How to be more innovative

How to get into an innovative frame of mind:

  • Identify the problem – what's causing you issues you want to avoid in future? What do you want to improve or start doing to make your business better?
  • Foster communication – “I strongly believe innovation is a team sport,” says Dr Charlie Day, CEO of the Office of Innovation and Science Australia. Ask your family, friends, mentor or fellow small business owners for their thoughts and ideas.
  • Generate new ideas – use Inventium’s innovation process - it's based on the scientific tools known to boost creativity and will help you bring innovation into your business.
  • Schedule innovation time – otherwise, business as usual will win and innovation won’t happen. Or, if too much time is spent on innovation, the 'bread-and-butter' of your business may suffer.
  • Stamp out the fear of failure – adopt a new attitude and start believing that all innovation attempts pave the way for future success, so you never think of them as failures to be feared.
  • Stay energised and inspired - seek out inspiration and learn from other small businesses who have successfully innovated and the positive impact it’s had on their business.

"Don't be afraid to collaborate," says Erbacher. "Ask people who are successful how they do it. That’s how I started the Your Revolution podcast. I like having interesting conversations where I can ask people things I couldn’t usually ask them, so I put myself out there and asked Hamish Blake and Lee from Survivor if I could interview them for the podcast and they said 'yes I’d love to'. It’s ok to ask for help and it’s so important to admit you don’t have all the answers. Just keep putting yourself out there and being really genuine."

Jane Erbacher has founded several health and wellbeing businesses and initiatives, including her Your Revolution podcast

Jane Erbacher adopted an innovation mindset to successfully launch her multi-faceted health and wellbeing business and Your Revolution podcast.

The cost of being late to innovate

If you fail to innovate, you risk standing still while the market moves on without you. In an age of digital disruption, this can render your business un-competitive or irrelevant.

Traditional publishers like newspapers and magazines have been confronted with this reality­, losing ground to digital platforms like The Huffington Post and – the latter reaching four million women per month and now the leading independent digital publisher in Australia.

In her new book Work Strife Balance, founder Mia Freedman describes how Mamamia has taken advantage of all the platforms and technologies her old media employers were resistant to - the internet, the smartphone, and social media. Innovation was a vital tool for her business growth, and it can help you too. With an innovative mindset you can identify new opportunities and rectify existing issues, both of which have an impact on your business's bottom line in the short and long term.

To learn more about innovation

Listen to the Lewis Howes School of Greatness podcasts. "I've learnt so much from listening to that," says Erbacher.

Read and use Inventium’s innovation process.

Use platforms like Meetup to find innovation get-togethers near you.

Read any of these six books which will transform your mindset about how to grow your business.

Consider a Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation now offered by some universities.