Innovation: Distinctive Entrepreneurship

What do you think of when you hear or see the word “innovation”? Do you think of Henry Ford and others like him who brought us from horseback to automobile travel? Perhaps you think of the Wright brothers and their flying machine, which further transformed travel. You may think of Isaac Watts and the steam engine, Thomas Edison and the incandescent light bulb and the phonograph, Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, or Steve Jobs and the Macintosh computer, the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad.

These are examples of innovations that, in their time, took the world by storm, altering the course of history, changing and improving lives, and in many cases, making a lot of money.

The ideas lying inside of you may not be as revolutionary as these game-changers, but none of these examples could have been assembled without numerous lesser innovations that were made by others first. The internal combustion engine had to be built and somewhat refined by innovation multiple times before it could successfully be used for an automobile or airplane engine. Electricity and copper wire and generators had to be invented and refined by innovation before it could be used to make a light bulb or a telephone. Steel processing and huge manufacturing plants had to be designed, built and refined by innovations before steam could be harnessed. And silicon chips and miniaturizing and transistors had to be developed and refined by innovations before home computers and smart phones could be invented. We could continue to reverse engineer every invention to discover all the seemingly small innovations that preceded the big inventions like those above.

Here’s my point: Innovation is at the crux of ALL change and improvement, but innovation is not always recognized immediately as something “big”. Take Viagra as an example. A conservative pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, had a laboratory in England working on a drug that could help patients with certain heart issues. The drug dilated the blood vessels and allowed greater blood flow. In test trials, men experienced a totally unrelated side effect – strong erections. At first, these side effects were laughed at and the company felt embarrassed by the drug. But, a couple of men in marketing saw the potential and understood how this drug could impact men who suffered from impotence. They renamed impotence to “erectile dysfunction,” began a marketing campaign immediately after the drug was approved by the FDA and discovered a THREE BILLION DOLLAR a year business niche.

There are so many stories like these, about innovators and innovations that came from failed experiments or mistakes or even tragedies. Some innovations happen on purpose, like Henry Ford’s assembly line, which is a concept that is still being used extensively today in manufacturing processes. Some, completely by accident, like the case of a tire company in Ohio that left a batch of latex near a fire by accident and discovered that the heat, along with sulfur, hardened the rubber. This allowed them to make tires that lasted tens of thousands of miles and  strong tires for big earth-moving equipment and trucks.

I’m writing about innovations and innovators because it is the word that most perfectly describes what I think of when I use the word “entrepreneur”. By definition, an entrepreneur is one who sets up a business, taking on financial risk in hopes of financial profit. That is a good definition, but I further see an entrepreneur as one who sets up a business with an innovative mind. He sees a new idea or change that could impact a particular industry and multiply his profits. It is not simply doing business the same way as everyone else; it is adding a dimension that sets him apart. It could be a faster, better, cheaper means of performing that business.

What I want to do is help entrepreneurs look at business with an eye for what added benefit they could bring to that business. I want to help you stand out from the crowd. Think of Amazon.  Jeff Bezos had an idea that he could sell books faster and cheaper through the mail than a person could purchase them at a bookstore. It would be faster, more convenient and cheaper and without the cost of a bricks and mortar store, his overhead expense would be considerably less. His garage as his first warehouse and he even acted as an agent for third parties by advertising and selling books that were not in his possession or warehouse. The third party would ship the books directly to the buyer. Once established, it was just a matter of time before Bezos realized he could market anything this way. Amazon does the same as the retail catalogue used to do, but Amazon is not confined to only what one store or industry could sell.  The innovation factor is the nearly unlimited sourcing combined with speed and efficiency. It’s not rocket science, but Amazon’s profits shot to the moon and beyond.

What can you bring to the idea table? It could be as simple as your work ethic applied to a problem. It could be your imagination and creativity, your leadership style or your compensation package for your employees, your office management style and culture or how you conduct business meetings. It could be how you train new employees, your unique standard operating procedures or any of a million innovations just waiting to be discovered and utilized in the business world.

Sometimes simply the way a person works with other people or how he or she treats customers or the “extra mile” someone goes to please a customer can be the innovation needed to take a B+ business model to an A+. Innovators can be found on assembly lines, in secretarial positions, in commercial kitchens, and on showroom floors. Innovators are thinkers and day dreamers. They ask, “Why, How, What if”. They look for the better, faster, cheaper way to get a job done well. And sometimes they plan an innovation; sometimes they stumble on one. They know that luck favors the one who is using his brains and his work ethic.

We need innovators in the classroom, in the home, in the workplace, in the lab, in the hospitals, in the boardroom, in every area of life. How can we better educate our children? Keep them safe in school? Shutdown the “school-shooting” crisis? How can we prepare for the consequences of global warming? How can we help those snared in the drug crisis? How can we reform our prison/justice system? How can we do OUR jobs better, faster, cheaper, more efficiently?

I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but I am trying to help you use that wheel to get where you need to be. I know you have a thousand great ideas in you, and I want to provoke your innovative nature. You may be just the one to impact our lives here on earth in a more positive manner.