The WSJ ran a great piece by Leslie Kwoh called Memo To Staff: Take More Risks highlighting the move by some CEOs to encourage staff to innovate, try things and to stop just surviving. Seth Godin’s latest book The Icarus Deception shouted a similar theme – we’re all flying too low!

But what does this mean for the SMB with say 20 to 100 staff? What does it mean for a division of a large public group under pressure to perform to support the share price. Here are a few thoughts on innovation to get you thinking. Post recession stress is real. People are very nervous sticking their head up to risk failure. Given this background try these:

  1. Innovation is as much about improving the old not just inventing the new (Jeff Bezos of Amazon in a recent FT article). Start some improvement sessions led by department heads. Incentivize people. Create competitions with prizes. Remember innovators aren’t exceptional as much as they are confident. (David Kelley, founder of design firm IDEO)
  2. Look long and hard at how your customer’s USE your product on their premise. Who interacts with your product? What does your customer do with the output from your product? How do their existing systems connect with your product?
  3. Create a mini University and teach your staff the essential skills they need to fulfill the requirements of their role. In addition teach them about other departments in your business. Bring them to a deeper appreciation of the diverse skills in your company. This drives innovative ideas and gets people comfortable with taking risks together.
  4. Teach your staff to be curious. Rarely is the software bug solved first time by the obvious answer. Rarely is the financial variance explained away by the simple version of the truth. Rarely is the explanation offered up by the salesman the real reason for a deal not closing. Teach them curiosity and they will come up with more innovations.
  5. Test early the look and feel of that new web site, or early versions of that new product to really experience the end product in the real world.
  6. Use scenario planning to visualize various versions of your business model, or various versions of your business. Be courageous. Imagine what is possible to define and dominate your unique market. Dream big.
  7. Bring innovation to all aspects of your business by asking the right questions:
    • meetings – ask – what question is this meeting answering
    • sales – what business result can I deliver for this prospect?
    • new products – what is the size of the potential market I’m attacking and what itch am I really scratching?
  8. When launching products remember to keep all relevant departments in line. I call it the DSMO. Development, Sales, Marketing and Operations should all be part of the launch team. Each with their own timetable for success but aligned to make launch day a success.


Taking risks, trying new things needs to be encouraged by actions. Employees are in shock after 4 years of pain. Show them it’s ok to dream big. Innovation can happen everywhere. Don’t be constrained with inventing the next big thing. Think about some of these principles and make sure you keep investment closely aligned to your positioning. Create a buzz, a curiosity, a willingness to fail within key parameters, and you will create an innovative culture that will take risks again.