When it comes to innovation in business, most leaders and organizations are divided on what innovation looks like in general, and what it should look like for their businesses. In many instances, we collectively tend to think of innovation as a “big bang” concept collectively tend to think of innovation as a “big bang” concept and associate it with big companies, complex technology and things bigger and better than what we, in the small to midsize space might be able to acomplish. But, that’s hardly true innovation.

I disagree with that thinking. I’m a believer that innovation could happen sitting in the garage or in the attic or even under a tree. Think of brands like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Google or Virgin that were nothing more than big ideas when they started, and today are multi-million (and in some cases, multi billion) dollar businesses. That’s because they knew how to fill the right voids through their unique products and services. And that, my friends? That’s innovation.

SMBs and innovation

Innovation is an overly misused term, especially in the context of today’s start-ups. Unfortunately too many people confuse innovation with adopting new a technology or some breakthrough research. So what exactly do we mean by innovation?

Partly from what I’ve known and partly from my own experiences, I can tell you that real innovations have three things in common – a questioning spirit, the urge to do something new, and a strong determination. While many SMBs lack in one or more of these qualities, they also come face-to-face with some key challenges in terms of innovation. These things include:

  • Limited time and resources
  • Large financial risk
  • Difficulty in acquiring external capital
  • Lack of a formal R & D support.

So, it goes without saying that innovation is that one thing that SMBs need to have on their minds constantly. They need to always be looking for opportunities to innovate, and to always be focused on ways to combat the challenges listed above in the best, most effective ways they can.

Even small changes can pave the way for bigger innovation

Who said only big innovations count? Certainly not me! In fact, your pint-sized idea could easily become the next big thing.

While there are no doubt times where massive disruption or shift can transform a business, more often than not, even small and subtle innovations can make a world of difference. For instance, a company taking small initiatives at a time will, in due course, transform itself into a better company. At times what looks like a quick overhaul might actually be the fruit of many years of hard work and dedication, along with a strong will to go against the norm. These actions taken in small steps enable you to be different, to be unique – in short, to be innovative.

Lesson learned: quit focusing on picking your brains trying to think out-of-the-box. Really. For one thing, when everyone is trying to do the same—to come up with that giant big idea, it’s too much pressure. And where’s the creativity in that? Instead, a few small and meaningful nips and tucks might turn out to be an innovative move for your business. More importantly, those nips and tucks might be just the thing your customers and prospects need the most.

SMB is a fiercely competitive world where it’s difficult to get people to notice you. If you wish to succeed here, blending with the crowd won’t help. Swim against the tide, shed your inhibitions, fears and whatever it is that holds you back. Innovation manifests itself in those small things that you do. While wearing the hat of an innovator is not an easy job, it’s definitely a job that you would love doing for your business.


This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit  IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

Image: Creative Commons

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