Innovation vs Distraction: Got a System?

Last night, I attended an IdeaSlam at the Cary Innovation Center. Several different entrepreneurs–some with companies already and others with only ideas so far–each gave their two to three minute spiel before receiving feedback from the crowd and EntreDot staff. The variety of thoughts was impressive. So, too, was the passionate advocacy of what the presenters felt inspired to do. I wondered, though, what happens when passion wanes due to setbacks…

It’s not enough to have a good (or even great) initial idea…the best predictor of success is how the idea is nurtured, problems solved, and opportunities explored.  In order to become successful, the entrepreneur must continue to be curious. Reading extensively, attending events where nuggets of wisdom can be received, and simply taking time to think are all ways to keep the idea alive.

While a commitment to pursue a free flow of learned information is admirable, what is most desirable is learning how to discern between them and hone in on the best ones. Best practice is to develop a process to vet new ideas (not a totally new business idea mind you, but rather a “how to,” “when to,” why to” pursue your original one. With a process in place, distinctions can be made between new opportunities and new tactics or ways of doing what you do. A value judgment must be placed on whether giving the new thought earnest heed and an investment of time and effort will move the organization closer to accomplishing its mission or become a diversion.

In addition to evaluating new thoughts on the diversion–>mission scale, it can be helpful to analyze them based on internal and external impact. Does pursuit of the thought give the company a chance to accentuate something it’s good at? Or, overcome something at which it is weak? Does the thought have the potential to help the company thwart a market move by a competitor, or pioneer a new “blue ocean?” 

Thirdly, what other ideas have to be set aside to pursue the new one(s)? Resources are in high demand in a start-up company. If talent and time and “treasure” are invested in something new, what might suffer by comparison? Perhaps your “back of the napkin” cost vs. benefit analysis indicates that the new thought is worthy. Then what?

The new thought must “grow legs!” In order for it to have its intended effect, planning must occur. Figuring out what steps need to be pursued includes breaking a big idea down into smaller ones and devising a custom approach for each one. Within approaches, strategies and tactics, with actionable due dates, become the blueprint to build a better mousetrap.

Like Being in a Rut?

As a business owner, every day brings new challenges and issues that demand our attention. When 100% of our time is given to doing the business (marketing, selling, making, fixing, shipping, accounting, etc.), we’re stuck.  We’re in a rut that (often) leads to failure. Perhaps not failure in the sense of going out of business or having to take a day job, but a missed opportunity to see the business become what it could/should be.

It’s a common trap we can all fall into.  We have something the market wants.  Demand increases and the technical activity associated with getting and filling orders completely fills our schedules.  Forty hours per week becomes fifty and then sixty.  We start taking work home (it’s a sign when what we once enjoyed becomes work).  Everything becomes more mechanical.  We lose balance often at the same time our business is losing steam.

When we’re in the rut, the solution appears to be counter-intuitive and impossible to execute, but we must allocate a portion of our time to work on the business if we want our business to survive.  It’s not optional – it’s essential. You may have heard the admonition to not work in your business at the expense of working on it–the question, though, becomes “how?”

We need to continually infuse creativity into our business–if we want to stay out of the rut.  That won’t happen if we don’t:  1) purposefully allocate time for it and 2) utilize an agenda that maximizes the creative input in the time allocated. The best solution to infuse the most creativity in the shortest amount of time is setting aside 5 days per year with your executive leadership team and 90 minutes or less per week (5% to 6% of your total work hours), using specific agendas to extract creative input to prioritize, solve your issues, maintain focus and advance your company.

Applied faithfully, this regimen will move you and your company to a top performing level. Rather than rehashing worn out frustrations, being stymied in your rate of growth, or feeling like you have to come up with all the answers by yourself, you will find freedom, organization, and synergy flowing from your efforts. Dare to try it!

A special thanks to Don Tinney, who posted many of the concepts above in a blog entry this week at