Bill Sheets ([email protected]) is a programmer for Axiom Design.“The way were going to survive is to innovate our way out of this.” Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple Computer
Steve Jobs and Apple Computers have certainly survived just fine. Apple has, in fact, done it with innovation.
If you peruse a typical companys brochures, you will inevitably see the claim that they are the leaders in innovation among their industry peers. Using the word “innovation” conveys cutting edge, revolutionary and trend setting. It can also mean revenue and profits as evidenced by Apple. Even during a slowdown, companies are investing in innovation. When it comes to your business, it is important to be an innovator, especially in a high-tech industry like the A/V business. But, where do you begin? What planning is needed, and how do you find the time?
To begin implementing a plan to increase and maintain a desired level of innovation, one should understand the difference between creativity and innovation. A professor of mine once explained it to me like this: “Think of creativity as the individual endeavor that when brought together with others, becomes innovation.” If you are the one to bring creativity together, you need to make a commitment to seeing the plan through. You have to want to do it, believe in what you are promoting, and be willing to endure the pain of implementing it.
Before you start to develop a plan for innovation, it is essential to know your competitors. Attend local home shows for examples of their work. Check the details of the system, the aesthetics, functionality and workmanship. You may already have a good grasp of their abilities. If so, try to always maintain that knowledge, as companies have been known to raise and lower their levels of innovation.
Lastly, involve your staff early in the formation of the plan. Make sure that you clearly define the goal of the plan. These are the people that do the work. They will have ideas and suggestions that you may not have thought of. Listen carefully to each idea and extract the validity. Encourage them to really think about the tasks that they perform and give them a venue to discuss how to improve. Be careful not to squelch fresh and off-the-beaten-path ideas or else you may find this valuable resource dry up. Question why the company does the things it does and the ways it does them. Do not accept the response “because its always been done that way.”
Once you have reached the planning stage, you will have some decisions to make. Analyze your budget for the year and try to set aside funds for some of the costs that you will incur to increase innovation. Decide which staff members are to be a part of the resources and how much of their time you can afford to dedicate to development and plan implementation. Try to do this on a weekly basis. I found that setting aside a day per week or per month where I could primarily work on tasks associated to the goal, worked for me.
In your plan, include time to meet with your representatives to get demo equipment for experiment. They will want to accommodate you because if their equipment passes your stringent test, then you will sell be selling it. This is important because the devices you specify are an integral part of your ability to be innovative. Their capabilities drive the level of innovation. Plan to exploit those capabilities for your companys benefit. The process of exploring new equipment exposes you to the innovations of others and also helps to prime the pump of your own efforts.
The largest obstacle that you may come up against will be making the time for the planning, implementation and maintenance of the specific tasks your company is doing to increase innovation. As mentioned previously, a good way of making this time is to set aside a day to concentrate on your mission, and then stick with it. Make it a routine. Commit to a regular meeting time with your staff to analyze progress and to deal with new ideas.
You should delegate tasks that can be performed by chosen and qualified staff. Delegating will free up your valuable time and will empower the people who are going to carry out and maintain the implementation. Assigning specific tasks will also help your staff understand the level of expectation that you have. Keep a close eye on the results and modify plans on the fly if needed.
If you heed the suggestions and ideas presented, be patient, and stay committed. Eventually the process will be part of the normal tasks of you and your staff. I think the great mind of our time describes innovation the best by saying:
“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Albert Einstein
Bill Sheets ([email protected]) is a programmer for Axiom Design.