Top 10 tips for doing innovative business

Being innovative in business is all about thinking ahead; discovering something new in what might seem obvious to others. Given the truism that those in front control the future, this should really be second nature to any business. Of course, you first need to answer the question of what it is that makes a business innovative. We have listed ten tips below for building a successful innovative business.

  1. Nothing is too 'out there'
    Being creative means straying off the beaten path and letting your imagination run wild. You really should not be bound by any limits when searching for new ideas. 'Keep an open mind' is a good basic rule to remember. Once you have gathered a whole heap of ideas, you can start sifting through them to decide which ones will make the cut.
  2. Test your idea
    Once you are ready to start marketing your product, it is up to your customers to decide if it will be successful. So if you think your idea is the best thing since the proverbial sliced bread, you should check to see if your customers are genuinely interested in your product. Ask them to describe what their problem is and what caused it, so you can come up with an appropriate solution – or improve the one you have designed for them.
  3. Kill your darlings
    If you go for one idea, you will have to eliminate another one. Make sure to only invest time, money and energy in concepts that show the greatest likelihood of success. To quote the famous author William Faulkner: 'Kill your darlings.'
  4. Stay on top of trends
    As a business, you simply cannot afford to fall behind the competition – you need to stay ahead at all times. So keep your eyes and ears peeled: make a point of finding out what your competitors are up to, stay on top of the latest developments in your industry and keep an eye out for new trends. Cor Stutterheim of CMG, paraphrasing Albert Einstein: 'Enterprise is about seeing what everyone else has seen and doing something with it that no one else has done.' 
  5. Love your enemies
    Your toughest critics and most critical followers are also your best audience – at least when it comes to improving your product. Remember: they are the ones to point out your weak spots.
    Take them seriously and use their criticism to your advantage. As Michael Corleone said in The Godfather Part II: 'Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.'
  6. Dare to make mistakes
    Yes, you can learn from your mistakes, and yes, sometimes clichés are clichés for a reason: because they are true. 'If you never try anything new, you'll miss out on many of life's great disappointments.' Or, as Dropbox founder Drew Houston puts it: 'Don't worry about failure; you only have to be right once.'
  7. Be sustainable
    'Sustainability' may have started out as a buzzword, it is now an absolute necessity. Businesses that do not recognise this are out of the game, pure and simple. Klaas van den Berg, PwC, in 2012: 'Sustainability has become a strategic imperative. The business community thinks of it as the ultimate business model, which will be the standard a decade from now.'
  8. Give your employees the freedom they need
    Your employees are bursting at the seams with ideas. Give them the time and freedom they need to develop new ideas. Google runs its famous '20 percent time' programme, in which employees are free to work on their own projects one day a week. Many of Google's flagship products, such as Gmail and Google News, were developed initially as 20 percent time projects.
  9. Walk it like you talk it
    Make sure you do not just have a good story, but go out and make it happen. Stick to your good ideas and keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t be afraid of failure. In the words of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: 'The biggest risk is not taking any risk.' 
  10. Keep innovating
    You need to do more than just develop that one great idea. Good entrepreneurs never stop innovating. If you want your business to keep going, you need to keep coming up with fresh new ideas all the time.

Early adopters

Timo Mulder, Managing Partner of start-up acceleration company Value First, coaches start-ups and helps them to turn their ideas into a reality. What would he say is vital to becoming a successful innovative entrepreneur?

'When the teams we coach present their initial solution to customers, these customers usually respond completely differently than what they expected. Their underlying assumptions turn out to have been all wrong and it's back to the drawing board for them. Don't kid yourself into thinking that your prospects will think your initial solution is the best thing out there. You should actively set out to find early adopters: customers who acknowledge that they have a problem and are determined to find a solution – and who are willing to invest time and money in your vision. Learn to understand their behaviour. Your goal as an entrepreneur is to come up with an appropriate solution based on their needs and their customer journey. Once you've got your foot in the door with these trailblazers, that’s when you can – literally – really start getting down to business.'

Rabobank Innovation Point

In the Innovation Point, employees of local Rabobanks have access to a single source of all the available knowledge and expertise related to innovation.

Cindy Koolhout, Project Manager at the Innovation Point: 'Suppose an account manager receives a loan application from a business looking to supply chip components to ASML [Netherlands-based supplier of photolithography systems for the semiconductor industry]. If the account manager believes the application has potential but isn't sure what criteria to use in assessing it, the Innovation Point can give him a push in the right direction. It can help him, for example, in finding a company that would be able to perform a technical analysis, such as the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO. The Innovation Point also works with a pool of experts, including people with in-depth knowledge of industries such as food & agri, or automotive. They can also involve other divisions of the Rabobank Group such as Rabobank Private Equity. In these tough economic times, our bank needs to continue to keep the door wide open and provide opportunities to innovative businesses.'