Business owners, entrepreneurs are inundated with sage advice about being innovative from those who’ve gone before and prospered, like:
To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius. ~Emerson
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. ~Steve jobs
Stick to your vision and tune out the naysayers. ~Mark Zuckerberg
Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. ~George Bernard Shaw
Yes, it’s all great advice if you have the financing to be truly innovative and weather the tough times that are sure to come. Sure, it’s easy, if you’re a genius.
What I’d like to suggest is this: yes, innovation is a big part of business success, but don’t dismiss the other key ingredients: excellence and imitation.
Okay, excellence is simply doing things as well as it can be done. For example, Malcolm Gladwell (The Outliers) reminded us about the amount of hours, 10,000 in fact, were required to become a “master” at something (after years of performing at local clubs, night after night, the group known as the Beatles was masters of playing music and writing songs). They were not, as we were led to believe, an overnight sensation.
I’m reminded of a class exercise decades ago that featured a mix of students in Ph.D. and MBA business programs alongside experienced business executives. The topic of recruiting talent came up, and after listening to numerous academic theories, an executive said, “When we need talent, we just hire people who have been well trained but are frustrated at (other companies). We get the best people, (and) they are dying for greater opportunities.”
We’re also too proud to acknowledge our own limitations, and may believe that our amazingly new idea may not seem so to the buying market. And, since business is typically a collaborate enterprise, desirable qualities like “teamwork” and “cooperation” can inhibit the innovative mind.
Many business successes have arisen from the franchise method. Compare the notion of opening up an established pizza chain with your own original pizza parlor with recipes gathered from family, friends and maybe cable TV shows. Or, would it be easier to open up your own hamburger palace from scratch, without an apparent “identity,” versus a well-known name?
In summary, while innovation is clearly the backbone of growing a business, increasing market share and profits, it needs the support and inclusion of imitation and excellence where it matters most. And, knowing when to focus on each of these qualities, is where true business wisdom lies.