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Utah Business

Derek Miller of the Salt Lake Chamber thinks that business innovation in Utah and beyond begins with you.

Innovation begins with you

Every year, business leaders across the Wasatch Front launch successful enterprises that bring hope, opportunity, and prosperity to our community. Some of these ventures even turn into unicorns—companies with a value exceeding $1 billion. Large or small, these risk-takers put their products and services to the unforgiving test of the market. 

Utah is fortunate to have an enterprising culture rooted in our rugged past and pioneer spirit. As companies grow and scale, you’ll often hear them referred to as “disruptive innovators,” a phrase coined by the late Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. However, not all innovation needs to be “big bang disruption” or brought about by a “dilemma” in the market. When it comes to innovation, many successful companies start small and grow organically.

For example, Albert Einstein had his first inklings on relativity while daydreaming at a patent office. FedEx began as a school project that famously received a mediocre grade from a professor who evidently lacked Fred Smith’s vision. When Bill Gates first began working on software, few people believed there would ever be a need for ordinary folks to have a computer.

Successful entrepreneurs and companies promote ideation. They understand that innovation can be framed around a product or service but is also engendered through process and culture. Whether it’s an individual starting out with a single idea or a unicorn looking to grow, they create the time, place, and incentive to engender blue ocean thinking. 

As you consider the importance of innovation in your business, begin with a simple question: Am I prioritizing and facilitating creativity? Suppose you are just starting out as a small enterprise. In that case, this may mean assigning yourself or another individual or two to regularly evaluate market needs, evolving technologies, more efficient delivery of services, and overcoming barriers to entry as you look to seize the white space. If you are a larger company, you can create a committee to do this on a regular basis, always looking for growth opportunities.

The corporate culture that supports this approach will be informed and nimble, likely making headway on the competition. And if you think this step is too simple, keep in mind that the core principles approach of distilling things to their simplest forms and looking for other options is often lauded by Elon Musk. After all, it was Gutenberg who took the technology of a screw press for making wine and substituted paper, movable type, and ink to create the first printing press.  

Though implied, devote real resources to your innovation team or person. Staff could be selected and viewed as one of prestige and a function for high-performers only. Another creative tool could be to have an ideation board for employees to put new ideas up for everyone to review and vote on. Additionally, customers provide continuous real-time feedback, and their best ideas should always be a part of this process. This customer-centric approach is a crucial part of the design thinking process—another method for your innovation team’s toolbox. 

This design thinking method can be broken down into five components:

  • Engage and empathize with users to determine their actual needs
  • Define and state the problem you need to solve
  • Ideate and look for solutions or alternatives to the problem
  • Prototype and identify the best solution from the ideas generated
  • Test the solutions out and gain feedback from users

There is nothing complex about this five-step process, but it is too often overlooked and not given serious or methodical consideration. Innovation does not need to be complex—especially in its formative stages—but it does have to be a priority in today’s rapidly changing economic environment. A market can be here today and gone tomorrow or go from non-existent to unicorn status in a year. Our opportunity to innovate and build Utah’s economic ecosystem at this time is a rare privilege. Talent is ready and abundantly available. Human nature hungers for purpose and to be creative. Now is the time to champion innovation in your enterprise. Start small or go big, but whatever the circumstances, get moving!