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Michael Port

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Innovation Starts With You

Posted: 05/27/11 06:10 PM ET

Every successful entrepreneur, indeed every successful person, is an innovator.

You might be saying to yourself, "Not me, I'll never invent the light bulb. Don't confuse the idea of innovation with the idea of invention.

An innovator can change perspective and adopt new habits. Innovation is changing the way you do and see things. It is asking yourself, "How will I view my business differently today than I did yesterday?"

For many people, innovation can be overwhelming.

We can feel trapped by our business, stuck in habits, practices, and perspectives. "I work with clients one at a time," you might think. The idea of creating and licensing intellectual property may seem beyond your reach. You feel safe with your present practices.

I know. I've been there. I still am, because it's not a one-shot deal. You can't innovate and be done with it. Innovation, building a bigger, better business, is an organic process, iterative and ongoing.

Every time you solve a problem or meet a challenge, a new one presents itself.

Innovation is a process of creation, maintenance, and destruction followed by re-creation and so on. It's very rare to be able to dust off your hands and say, "Now then, I'm done."

What does it really mean to innovate?

Divesting the busywork that takes up too much of your time, which would be better spent with your clients on your "real" work -- that's innovating. Figuring out how to outsource the mechanisms for keeping in touch with clients through regular mailings or other contact -- that's innovating. Implementing new record-keeping systems -- that's innovating. Finding little ways to alleviate annoyances -- that's innovating. Restructuring your business so it's built for growth, while at the same time lightening your load -- that's innovating.

My dear friend, Hal Macomber, whose insight on innovation and doing projects has been invaluable to me, likes to use the orange juice carton example to illustrate this cycle of innovation.

For a long time, orange juice was sold in cardboard cartons with cardboard spouts. But orange juice in this form (i.e., not frozen concentrate) didn't last very long. So something had to be done to give the orange juice longer shelf life. Pasteurization turned out to be the answer, which was great, except for one thing: Orange juice (which is a long-lasting acid liquid) degraded the cardboard spout. One challenge solved, another presented. Something had to be done, or the paperboard industry couldn't supply cartons to the orange juice producers anymore.The next innovation was the plastic spout on the cardboard juice container. Great, again. Of course, the plastic spout likely brought its own new challenges, but we won't get into those. As each new hurdle is overcome, another presents itself. And the cycle repeats again and again.

Take the plunge and become an innovator.

It's not nearly as daunting as it seems. In fact, it can and should be exhilarating, which is not to say it won't be hard work -- it will be, but that's okay because in the end you'll be experiencing the deep sense of purpose that comes from the pursuit of mastery.

 
 
 

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