How Small Businesses Can Spot Innovation

Innovation is never easy to spot.

Fresh on the minds of most thanks to the innovations of Apple (and a recent biopic to boot), Steve Jobs is often regarded as one of America’s greatest innovators. On the surface, though, was Jobs much more than a typical dreamer? Who could have predicted that the barefoot college dropout would begin to establish his empire in his twenties and eventually change the face of technology as we know it?

We’d love to be a Steve Jobs, or at least we’d love to employ one. The problem remains; how do we spot such an innovator? How can we identify their ideas and nurture them? In today’s fast-paced, tech-driven world, constantly obsessed with the “now,” it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and overlook the fine details which may very well lead to a new breakthrough.

Our businesses evolve and go through so many changes on a regular basis. How do we know what ideas to stick with and which to move on from? Is it possible that we’re staring innovation in the face and we don’t even know it?

Despite today’s turbulent economy and ever-changing technology, consider how your business can stop and smell the roses in an attempt to cultivate innovation in your company’s culture.

Never Judge a Book by Its Cover

Businesses owners are often taught to trust their instincts and intuition. It’s true that first impressions matter and we should listen to our gut; however, sometimes it’s crucial to dig deeper than the surface when it comes to an idea or concept.

If we saw a young, scruffy Steve Jobs today, roaming a college campus with no shoes, how would we possibly recognize him for his ideas? We’ve entered an era where the biggest innovators are coming from completely unexpected places. Over the past decade or so, some of the most infamous indeed are the college dropouts who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

Whether you’re looking within your own company or at outside resources, be mindful before dismissing a potential idea or innovation. Business owners are tasked with giving everyone their full attention when it comes to the evolution of their business. Remember, innovation often comes from within for SMBs, whether you’re looking for it or not.

Ideas are Like Diamonds in the Rough

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Apple. Or Google.

Innovations begin as ideas or concepts; however, most ideas are simply diamonds in the rough. We must polish our designs and perfect our blueprints before such innovations can truly become reality. Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover when it comes to innovation, you should also consider how ideas presented to you may evolve over time.

This doesn’t mean you should be a daydreamer; however, it does mean you should consider the possibilities before dismissing an idea or concept completely. Ten years ago, the concept of something like an iPad would have been ridiculous. Tens of millions of units later, the idea doesn’t seem so silly.

Dick Rowe famously dismissed the Beatles for their lack of potential after an audition in 1962, failing to sign them and ultimately missing out on one of the greatest bands of all time. Likewise, don’t let potential opportunities for innovation slip through your fingers when it’s standing right in front of you.

Innovation as a Numbers Game

As a culture, we are obsessed with numbers. Especially when those numbers come after a dollar sign. Furthermore, all businesses want to improve their bottom line. And why not? With the economy the way it is, anything we can do to help ourselves scrape by is a plus.

Oftentimes, we see innovation as a numbers game. To many, that game asks “How much money can this make me?” or “How much money can we save?” The game runs much deeper than that, however, as we examine innovations that save us time or manpower or help boost productivity. While your decisions should indeed be driven by data and innovations should work to make your job easier, you don’t always have to obsess over dollar amount.

Shapes and Sizes

Beyond the numbers, innovation comes in all shapes and sizes.

Today, we often equate innovation to what’s going on in the tech sector. We talk at length about breakthrough software, the latest gadgets and Internet sensations. With this in mind, however, innovation for a small business could represent something as simple as eliminating a needless work-flow task or reorganizing a process.

Remember, being an innovator doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel or moving mountains. Instead, think about how small innovations can work to make a big difference. Small businesses have plenty in their arsenal to make such innovations a reality.

The Bottom Line

We are constantly surrounded by innovators, whether we know it or not. It’s our responsibility to try and spot innovation in its earliest stages in order to cultivate ideas into something special. Spotting innovation isn’t always easy; however, knowing where to look serves as a great starting point. While innovation doesn’t always mean billions, it does represent a smarter, more efficient business.

image credit: Agency Post

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

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