Innovations work for small and medium enterprises too!

I chanced upon your website and been reading your posts. I find some of them rather interesting. I also saw that you answered people’s queries. So I have decided to send a query too; I hope you will answer it. I run a 6-man team, operating two retail stationery outlets. I want to innovate, but I realize that all the things you talk about innovation is more applicable in bigger companies. My question is can a small company adopt innovation? If so, how?

Desperately Seeking Answers

Dear Desperately,

First, congratulations on taking the bold step in asking a question to a complete stranger, bearing some of your inner feelings and concerns. You have done the right thing.

Second, I have good news. The news is that you can innovate using many of the things that you see on our website ( but more importantly, you don’t have to significantly change the processes.

Third, I have more good news. Innovation usually comes out of smaller organisations faster and better than from larger ones. This is because they have less bureaucracy to manage, and decisions are made faster.

Finally, SMEs have great support from the Singapore government (I am assuming you are a Singapore company), and you can get funding from SPRING under the Capability Development Grant, to get your innovation going.

With so many good news, you might be thinking, it is too good to be true. Well, not really. One important caveat, ultimately, is that you will have to do the work, and you will need to roll up your sleeves. No one is going to do that for you. Sure there will be consultants whose expertise you can tap, but ultimately, if you are not willing to do the work yourself, no amount of help will suffice.

So, now that we have gotten that out of the way, how can you go about innovating?

First, you will need to understand that you can innovate from a growth standpoint, which ultimately means a new – or better – product or service; or you can innovate from a cost standpoint, meaning that you find new ways of doing things faster and cheaper.

Next, you will need to see what is happening now. What is the current situation and what are the pain points? What can you do better than your competitors that you can offer to your customers? Or what can you do better than you are currently doing, to reduce costs?

Following that, you need to do some literature review. See if there are any solutions out there that have already been uncovered to solve your problem. In many cases, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. If there is, then you can adopt a similar solution for yourself. You might not even need any government support in this case.

But what if there is no prior solution; or the solutions are not suitable for your industry, or your country? Then it is time to develop a solution for yourself, either by fixing what does not work with the available solutions, or to build a new solution from scratch. Most SMEs are afraid to do the latter, simply because they think that they don’t have the necessary knowledge, or expertise. That cannot be further from the truth. In fact, most solutions already reside in yours, or your staff’s, mind, and all it takes is for you to brainstorm your solutions.

So that is what you need to do next – brainstorm the different solutions. Don’t forget to shape your thinking by identifying all the constraints of your situation. After all, you don’t want have a solution that cannot really be used. Not only will it be a white elephant, you would have spent all that time and money for nothing.

Next, test, test, test. If it is a new product, remember to get your customers’ inputs along the way. You don’t have to tell them what you are doing, just getting their “hypothetical” feedback will do nicely. From these inputs, fine-tune your solution, and then put it out to market.

Finally, you don’t need to have a perfect solution. There is no such thing. Just get it out there and get more information. With information, you can then make things better. Know that your customers are forgiving; they understand that it takes a while to get your product right; so don’t worry.

And then perfect as you go.

This, Desperately, is basically how you can make innovation work for you. You don’t need a large team; just 3-4 people who are committed and passionate to make this work.

I wish you all the best!

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