Innovation Approach of an Entreprenovator

I like to borrow books from school’s library, friends and sometimes customers. Recently I borrowed a magazine and bumped into an interesting article which helps me to clarify some innovation that we as Entreprenovator possessed; simplified and attested by few reputable professors. The magazine borrowed was Harvard Business Review (HBR), December 2009

In that month, HBR spotlight was on innovation and as an entrepreneur and a big fan of innovation (that was how I coined “Entreprenovator” = Entrepreneur + Innovator), I grabbed that magazine and asked my friend to borrow it for a couple of days. Here the summary of what I read, observed and understand. I also added my comment through my experiences in being an Entreprenovator.

Introduction (by me)

I always wonder why sometimes what I think is not what others think. I always question why some people didn’t get what I was trying to say while it looks like common sense to me. I usually have the trouble to explain how I derive to certain conclusion after compacting various information from various sources. I often encounter many big ideas from many sources like while I am cleaning the house, jogging, exercising, watching TV, listening to music, driving and day dreaming but my audience find most of my ideas are crap. I aggressively ask why not, what if, why and how when I met people with good ideas but often realized they copied it from someone else. Do you experience the same scenarios? What’s your tipping point?

My tipping point is when in year 2000 when I was very young I suddenly received a “prophecy” to invent a digital photo viewer that can be used to store digital photos, play the photos, videos, add on background music and make an interesting presentation to someone you love. This gadget (viewer) should look like a typical photo frame in size and display sizeable pictures and it plays on and on. It can be run on electricity or battery powered. I scouted around to my university friends (I was a university drop-out, so I have time to scout around!) and sell them the ideas. I met some programmers but almost all they said “There is no market to this”. I was far from knowing what is investor all about, so I never look for them because I don’t know any of them. In 2006 I saw exactly the same thing in the market, made in Taiwan and China. Selling at $300 and selling like hot cakes! The word blurted from my mouth when the 1st time I saw that thing was, “This is it”.

I told everyone I know about it, but you know what happens. No one believes me that I thought about that idea years ago. Ideas are free and taking the ideas to make it work is another. But if ideas are free, why are we struggling to come out with one good idea?

In this article I read in HBR, it sums up about type of person and what they do as idea generator / innovator / Entreprenovator. I added my own experiences in italic to add zest to this article because I am not a professor; I am Entreprenovator.

Five (Plus One) Discovery Skills of True Innovators / Entreprenovator

Skill 1: Associating

This is the ability to connect things together. The things come from various sources, different fields and disciplines, unrelated questions, problems or ideas. To achieve this state one must have diverse experience, knowledge and backgrounds because this is helpful for the brain to work up all these seemingly different stuffs but sum it into specific thing which I called “new idea”. Some called it “Medici Effect”.

I truly agree with this observation. Just now where I mention “I often encounter many big ideas from many sources like while I am cleaning the house, jogging, exercising, watching TV, listening to music, driving and day dreaming.” I love to read and love to explore new things. When I meet new people with new background or job I tend to ask genuine question to know about them. Of course, some find it creepy. For example when I met a painter I ask how they get inspiration, where they go and how their lives look like. When I met a graffiti artist I ask them how brutal he needs to be before he has the idea to paint his graffiti on the wall. Most graffiti are done on first time basis and ideas are just flowing from the mind and feeling straight to spray can and fuushhhh on the wall. Isn’t that creative and awesome?

And with my marketing passion and background, I travel to many industries and focus on marketing. I also have worked as investment analysts, stocks trader, waiter, cookie salesman, consultant, investor, business owner and my wife is a veterinarian! You follow? The diversity creates diverse and non-conflicting ideas but very exclusive in term of ideas. I recently came up with an idea. Still few people find it stupid. The idea is: heated floor in the bathroom and living room. Would it be nice to have a nice warm feeling on the floor? What do you think? 😛

Skill 2: Questioning

Our late Peter Drucker (bless you!) described the power of provocative question. “The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.” Entreprenovator constantly ask question to seek the underlying ideas or purpose of an idea. We need to slice it so small but yet when we regroup it looks better or branch out to other idea. This is potent and proved to be the skill of many successful entrepreneurs such as from e-Bay, Google, PayPal and Skype. “They get kick out of screwing up the status quo.” These people later spend a lot of time thinking how to change the world with their ideas and they brainstorm. They always ask, “If we did this, what would happen?” Ask the simple 5W 1H questions.

Another way is to put constraints around ideas. Google’s said, “Creativity loves constraint.” And when asking questions, paint actual and multiple scenarios. Try to ask multiple question in the scenario. For example, “What if you manufacture the product based on the initial idea, then realized there is a better idea, all the marketing campaigns are ready to go, the cost of new idea is cheaper to produce but since you have produced the earlier version, what would you do about it? What strategy do you plan to use? What is the control measure and performance metrics?”

My observation is, as small business owners and entrepreneurs we need to ask a lot more questions like this. When we ask, we don’t seek direct answer because that is the killer of fruitful discussion. We also don’t look for stupid ideas or being judgmental about character of the idea and its originator. While most of the entrepreneurs stated above are highly successful, you shouldn’t be worry because questioning is a “superbly easy to do” and its damn free! Why must we try to seek new way of questioning for sake of being different? I believe in making innovation where we can use existing ideas as platform to get other original ideas. But what if you use new way of questioning? What would happen?

Skill 3: Observing

Discover-driven entrepreneurs produce uncommon business ideas by scrutinizing common phenomena, particularly the behaviour of potential customers. In observing others, they act like anthropologists and social scientists. Sometimes the variance or potential customer’s behavioural problem is very small for example tracking finances for a small business. Because it is for small business, many said “it should be easy to manage and they don’t need to use softwares”. But that wasn’t what Scott Cook thinks when he came up with Quicken. He must have thought, “There is still market because there is an unsatisfied need and with growing population of small businesses, eventually they will become bigger than the large business in terms of numbers.”

Observers try all sorts of techniques to see the world in a different light. This activity is observed from Akio Toyoda (of Toyota) where he embed this culture and business philosophy “genchi genbutsu” which means “going to the spot and seeing for yourself”. Frequent direct observation is baked into the Toyota culture.

I truly agree with this skill and approach. I still remember when I was running a project where I have a few of my team members report sales figures that I found “not quite right”. They said “this is what they get from the distributors” and I asked them whether they have seen how the distributors selling it on the ground. They lied, actually they haven’t. Simply because the next week I planned a secret visit and found out everything. From that observation I realized there was a few missing links and later we improvised the processes and we doubled the sales in the next few years. Observing skill is more of a creative that logic. Sometimes people don’t buy logically. For example during year end sales and festives season, logical thinking is out of the window. People just buy and buy and if you still sell your stuff without discount, people will buy from someone else.
Skill 4: Experimenting

Like scientists, innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots. The world is their laboratory. Unlike observers, who intensely watch the world, experimenters construct interactive experiences and try to provoke unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge. For example Steve Jobs disassembling Walkman and Howard Schulz of Starbucks roaming Italy visiting coffee bars. It is an intellectual exploration and should be done often until you don’t notice that it is running behind of your mind. One of the most powerful experiments innovators can engage is living and working overseas. In a research showed that the more countries a person has lived in, the more likely he or she is to leverage that experience to deliver innovative products, processes or businesses.

My biggest experiment and cost the most was to set up my cafe in year 2008. It was merely an idea but magnified and ballooned because I have a very strong conviction it could work. Based on my observation and data collected, it is going to work but it will take some time. I started to think bigger and the idea become more apparent. Unfortunately to buy time I need extra cash which I just don’t have. The cafe closed down within a year. Guess what? I will do it again in 5 years time because I know the trend is going to be here in that time. I am glad to experiment it because soon after that I experiment a lot other things. I experiment using social media, I launch my own e-Book, do my own training, join social club and connect with people among others. One thing I learn when experiment, manage your cost and not to let it become bigger than you can afford.

Skill 5: Networking

Many executives network to sell their ideas, access resources and expand businesses. Innovative entrepreneurs go out of their way to meet people with different kinds of ideas and perspectives to extend their own knowledge domains. They attend conferences, seminars and idea generation discussion forums just to expand their thinking and widening their horizons. Sometimes the seminars or conferences may not relate to them or maybe too generic that can be attended by diverse groups of people. The diverse the better.

I also agree to this and the last 2 years I put effort in meeting new people from new backgrounds. I am also glad that my projects take me to Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Myanmar. I hope to travel to Europe and more Asian countries in the next few years. As small business owners and entrepreneurs, sometimes it is not necessary the travel needs to be overseas; in some events the local getaway gives the similar effect (to network and get new ideas) and it is a lot cheaper. After all our business still needs the money more to grow it. I recently a Customer Service Seminar which is not related to me but I was invited, thus I went. I met few interesting people and become acquaintance. I learned more about university business and engineering human resource talent sourcing. I also become member in a few social and professional organizations. I am loving it!

Skill 6: Practice

I added up this skill because from my observation, practice is a skill and needs polishing. To acquire this skill is to do things repetitively until sane. This activity is very boring and time consuming. Sometimes we may not get the result we wanted or set for, we might fail and loss some money along the way. But I for one feel I benefit from this skill in my writing. I never know how to write but I realize with writing I can express a lot of ideas and make some money (income) out of it as what happens to my Marketing Plan e-Book. It is selling like hot cakes now! Buy the full version of Marketing Plan Breakthrough S6PEC HERE!! Welcome 2010 with better business and marketing strategies!

I put effort in writing. I read books on how to write, I started writing stupid things, I begin to blog and when I enrol myself in MBA I have to write solid theses papers, I copy certain article to get into the structure, I write training programs and newsletters. At first it is terribly difficult because I simply not used to it. When I first blog, I have to manually write on a piece of paper then transfer to Word doc before copying it into the blog. I edited a lot of times and that makes it even worse because I found it time consuming. But I persist and now I can write straight to the blog with minimal editing.

By knowing these skills already, what are you going to do about it? I leave it to you to decide. Final word, “try to spend 20-30 minutes a day and ask question that stops you from doing it better for yourself or your company”.

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