By Guy Rigby, Head of Entrepreneurial Services, Smith & Williamson

It’s not just big companies that need to continuously innovate to stay ahead of the competition. Smaller businesses also need to be thinking about improving their outlook through creative thinking and fresh ideas. And because they tend to be more nimble than their larger counterparts, ideas can be implemented more quickly and easily. Services or products can be improved, or new ones identified, significantly increasing revenue streams. But where should you start?

Here are some useful tips to keep in mind.

Be curious. Many innovators are problem solvers – stay on top of trends and technologies that impact your industry and your customers.
Look for patterns. Ideas often occur from other ideas. Look outside your own industry – some services may use the same processes.
Be agile. Adapt to changing market needs by looking ahead and thinking about what your customers will need in the future.
Take risks, make mistakes. If you don’t get the desired outcome, try not to think of it as a ‘failure’ but as an experiment from which you can learn.
Write things down. Keep a notebook close to hand to capture ideas whenever or wherever they occur.
Talk it through. Sometimes the act of verbalising your thoughts and having someone else as a sounding board can help you refine your ideas.

Stimulate to innovate

As most of us know, the innovation lightbulb can’t just be switched on and off when required – it’s a business culture that needs to be nurtured. Your people are the key drivers to innovation, but sitting around a boardroom table hoping that ideas will simply flow is not the best way to encourage innovative thinking within your team.
Below are some ideas to help you inspire your people.

Establish hot-desking or stand-up meetings somewhere different to where you’d normally work. “Move your team around. Go and sit or stand somewhere else”, recommends Julie Hoare of ?WhatIf!, the innovation experts company. In 2008, Proctor & Gamble took this approach to the extreme. They not only swapped desks, but swapped companies. They swapped employees with Google so that each set of teams could learn from each other’s approach and culture.
Share office space. Go one step further and share your space with other companies. As mentioned, looking at other businesses can inspire ideas that you can adapt and use.
Set up cross-team or cross-functional idea forums and incubators. This can help encourage communication and debate across entire teams or departments.
Stage ‘innovation jams’, as IBM does. These are brainstorming events that provide people from every corner of the company with the chance to put their ideas forward.
Invite employees to board or management meetings. Involve them in the strategic and operational decision-making process, especially when those decisions affect them, and then let word spread about their inclusion.
Hold regular meetings to provide a platform for ideas and feedback. This is particularly important where you have customer-facing employees. Throw ideas around, discuss client challenges, new campaigns and research, future objectives and goals.
Spend time explaining why change is needed. Involve key people in the process and quell any fears before they arise.
Reward ideas and efforts. Celebrate individuals who are thinking outside the box and let people know that they have all contributed to the big picture.

Giving employees the opportunity to offer innovative ideas and contribute to a ground-breaking organisation can give them a real sense of empowerment and satisfaction, as well as driving business growth. A win-win situation!

Guy Rigby
Head of Entrepreneurial Services
020 7131 8213