The Innovative Entrepreneur

A couple of decades ago one of my friends was frustrated because she was not able to make an appointment with her favorite hairdresser for her quarterly foil hair-color treatment. There was too much month left for the salary to afford this much-needed self-care need… In a moment of frustration, she told her husband that he will have to be satisfied with her grey hair showing more every day until the next week when her salary is paid.

As her husband generated his own income as an entrepreneur, cashflow in their household was exactly that – cash flowing in and cash flowing out… But when he saw his wife’s need and frustration, he went into the garage with a comment: “I will see you in a couple of hours again”, got into his bakkie and returned about 30 minutes later.

After about an hour in the garage, he drove off again and 10 minutes later walked into the house with cash and told her to book an appointment. She insisted to know where he got the money from and his answer was:

“I knew you needed the cash, so I went to the dump outside of town and picked up an old window frame somebody threw away. I’ve sanded it down, replaced one of the glasses (it was one of those wooden frames with 8 smaller glass frames), gave it a good varnish and left a couple of cracks for effect. My friend at the 2nd hand shop bought it from me to sell as a photo-frame… Whenever you need cash, just ask – there are plenty of cash if you know where to find it…”

For many years after this, I always drew inspiration as entrepreneur that if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and perseverance, nothing is impossible.

Why do I need this skill of “Innovation”?

In his State of the Nations address of 2018, the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa reminded us that while change can produce uncertainty, it also presents great opportunities for “renewal and revitalization, and for progress”. On 20 June 2019, he further pointed out that economic growth and job creation will come from the Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises in South Africa. Many of these enterprises are the inventions of Entrepreneurs.

Innovative entrepreneurs are extremely necessary for our country. They play an important role in contributing to job creation, economic growth and poverty alleviation, and can bring about a social challenge. I am not simply referring to starting a business. It includes the ability of the entrepreneur to come up with something much better than their competition at a lower price, but still cost-effective and of quality.

The economic impact of our country’s current contextual realities of lock down is therefore even higher because of SMMEs being a major part of the economic heartbeat. SMMEs are currently under great financial strain and in some cases, losing their grip on cashflow and keeping their doors open after the lockdown period.

This will certainly ask for MORE innovation and creative opportunities to return to a crippled economy in order to save jobs and support livelihoods within our struggling communities. We all can be overwhelmed with the devastating realities of our current economic context, or we can do something about it! I foresee that those 50% of SMMEs that is predicted to survive this lock down reality, will be those who is driven by Innovative Entrepreneurial Leadership…

[1]Entrepreneurship

The capacity and willingness to develop, organize and manage a business venture along with any of its risks in order to make a profit. The most obvious example of entrepreneurship is the starting of new businesses.

An entrepreneurial spirit is characterized by innovation and risk-taking and is an essential part of a nation’s ability to succeed in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Innovation

The process of translating an idea or invention into a product or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.

If somebody calls you innovative it refers to your ability to deliberately apply initiative and imagination to create new ideas serving a purpose to others. You are known as an inventor when you can solve a problem or address a need of a client. By adding your entrepreneurial spirit to this skill, you generate an income from being innovative to problem-solving!

Innovations are divided into two broad categories:

  • Evolutionary innovations (continuous or dynamic evolutionary innovation) that are brought about by many incremental advances in technology or processes and
  • Revolutionary innovations (also called discontinuous innovations) which are often disruptive and new.

Innovation is synonymous with risk-taking. Imitators take less risk because they will start with an innovator’s product and take a more effective approach. Once the innovator has taken the risk to develop something new, the imitators – most often with bigger budgets and resources – will improve on the innovation.

Have you ever come up with a great idea? Perhaps more than one great idea? This is innovation!

How much money did your great idea generate up till now? Is your answer to this question “Nothing”? Ideas are worth nothing until it is implemented! An innovative entrepreneur is somebody that can come up with a great idea AND put it into existence. Even if you need to partner with an imitator with a bigger budget should your resources be limited?

Without action, a great idea will stay just that – an IDEA!

What is unique about innovative entrepreneurs?

Some people can see a solution to a problem before the problem is even defined.

If you ask somebody what they think the lifespan of an apple is, some people will try to figure out how long an apple can stay fresh, while others will pick it up and eat it to show how short it can be. Some people see the big picture and others get lost in the detail of the simplest thing. Innovative entrepreneurs are the kind of person who will find 20 different uses for a paperclip in 40 seconds and will be able to motivate each use.

Entrepreneurship goes hand-in-hand with innovation — the ability to produce new ideas, provide better solutions and pioneer new products. The most successful entrepreneurs are not simply the hardest working person, they’re the most innovative. Successful entrepreneurs stand out easily. They normally have key personal characteristics that separated them from others. It is good to recognize these characteristics in oneself and others:

Opportunity seeking

To see and act on new business opportunities; to come up with good business ideas, to seize unusual chances to make ideas happen, to organise finance, equipment, workspace and assistance. They can have multiple brilliant ideas running simultaneously with ease and success.

Persistence

To keep going even when the going gets tough; able to try different ways of overcoming obstacles; to make personal sacrifices or put great effort into completing a job. Exercise patience until a task has been completed and a goal has been reached.

Commitment to work contract

To accept full responsibility for completing a job; to ensure that the job is done well (even if this means pitching in and doing a range of different kinds of work)

Demand for quality and efficiency

To work towards the highest standards; to improve on past performance. They preach perfection but practice progress. Perfectionism is sometimes seen as negative, but to discard it, it opens the door for mediocrity. Great innovators still preach perfection, yet they live in the reality of progress. It’s a healthy pendulum-swing between the two. They strive for the ideal and get work done in the real.

Risk taking

To have the courage to take well-thought-out risks when necessary. Risk-taking is risky and many fears the uncertainty it brings. But by welcoming fear you get the benefit of what being afraid brings – heightened awareness, compassion for others you are working with, and an unbreakable commitment to survive at all costs. Fear can enable progress and innovation. When the feeling of fear arises, rather than a fight/flight response, embrace it as an advantageous adrenaline rush.

Goal setting

To set clear, well-defined long and short-term goals (and objectives).

Systematic (orderly) Planning and Monitoring

To develop and use clear step-by-step plans to reach goals; to monitor progress and to find another way of achieving goals if necessary.

Information seeking

To actively search for information on products, services, customers and competitors. They’re obsessive note-takers. Your conscious mind (working memory) can only process small chunks of information at a time. Thomas Edison left 3,500 notebooks behind at his death. Richard Branson revealed a key business tool – a notepad – as he is always seeking feedback from flight passengers and cabin crew and using that information to innovate. Your most successful idea can come from anywhere; while you’re waiting for the toaster to pop or while driving in traffic on the freeway. 

Persuasion and Networking

People-skills – the ability to communicate effectively and to persuade and motivate others; to be able to build up a network of people to assist with achieving objectives.

Self – confidence

To have a strong belief in self, the inner certainty that one can meet challenges. Successful entrepreneurs and great innovators are highly confident. People with high confidence performs better in stressful situations. When others see risk, highly confident and innovative entrepreneurs see opportunity; when others see roadblocks and potential failure, they see victory. A key part of innovation is implementation – it’s not to come up with an idea first, but to be the first to produce it.

Creativity and innovative ability

Creativity refers to a person’s ability to think creatively. Innovative ability refers more to the use of creative abilities to create something concrete.

They’re brilliantly lazy

Bill Gates said, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” Gates could substitute “a lazy person” with “an innovative person.” Innovators will find the best and easiest route to get a project done. It boils down to efficiency. Innovators live by the saying, “Work smart, not hard.” They don’t just strive to create the best product, but also the best process. The best product combined with the best process is scalable!

They don’t wait for things to break.

Great innovators don’t wait for things to break, they stay ahead to live by the belief that ‘it can always be better’. Rather than wait for a problem and then provide a solution, great innovators find ways to ensure the problem will never even exist.

They understand the creative process.

The four classic stages of the creative process: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination & Implementation. Incubation is the moment in the creative process just before the ‘ah-ha!-moment’. It allows for the unconscious process to disseminate all information gathered for the conscious process to deliver the creative idea and solution.

They pursue multiple streams.

Just like the creative process, alternative interests overlap and feed off each other. Having multiple projects breaks the pressure of succeeding in one single venture. It will also expand your knowledge and interests within your business.

Which entrepreneurial characteristics do you have? Which of these are you currently struggling with?

Discussion Points

The most important personal resources of entrepreneurs are their attitudes and motivation – those abilities and attitude that often cannot be obtained through training. Very few entrepreneurs have all the characteristics needed for success and some do not apply all their skills in the right way.

Here are a few such shortcomings or weaknesses you should be aware of:

  • Setting up unrealistic time frames

Entrepreneurs are usually in a hurry. They want to achieve their goals very quickly. Unfortunately, in their excitement, they often underestimate the time and resources required to reach their goals. Do not waste time, but also do not jump into an idea without doing your homework and planning properly.

  • Keeping things to themselves

Entrepreneurs often do not know how to get the help of others. They want to do everything themselves and they don’t want to ask for help from anybody. An idea is worth nothing if you do not implement it. If you are not able to implement it without help and keep it to yourself, it might never see the light. Make sure to seek assistance in a responsible way.

  • Too many interruptions

Because Entrepreneurs are so keen to do everything themselves, they normally allow too many interruptions to interfere with their business. It might be necessary to develop a strategy when and how to tend to email, administration and planning. It might work to set aside a Monday or Friday for administration where you focus on spending time on planning, catching up on reports and to file all necessary documents and files electronically or a filing system.

If you are working on creative products you will know when is best for you to focus on this. For me personally the only time I can really focus on something creative, is when everybody else is asleep. There are no interruptions and time seems to stand still between 10 pm and 4 am. It does help however if you are in control of your own diary to schedule the next day’s meetings only from 10:30 or 11 am.

  • Working without a plan

Many Entrepreneurs prepare a well thought through business plan to start a business, but then they never look at their plan again. There is a reason why a business plan has a certain structure. It provides for a logical think-process to be followed in order to cover all aspects needed to be considered. A well-structured business plan should assist you to focus on the core aspects to keep in mind when setting up and running with your idea.

  • Not doing homework

Entrepreneurs are normally so excited to start a business or to branch out into a new area that they tend to rush into something without doing enough market research, checking their resources, or finding out what the competition is like. These aspects are important to consider and might even give you the edge of advantage.

[1] A couple of Definitions taken from http://www.businessdictionary.com (text quoted in italics)