Innovation for the Risk-Averse

by Michelle Hunter

How to experiment safely inside your business.

innovation for the risk averse

Personally, I enjoy stability. My business runs best- and I’m most comfortable- when my systems are stable, my team is well-trained and dependable, and my offers are proven and simple to deliver. You may think that I avoid innovation, especially if you compare my business to those you see frequently switching things up on social media, but you’d be wrong.

Entrepreneurs are innovators. We see a need in the market and we step into it. We encounter a problem and we solve it. We take an idea and we implement it.

But, for some of us, things change when we achieve a comfortable level of success. We get a bit risk-averse. We are proud of this thing we built and we don’t want to jeopardize it. Honestly, we are also tired and we’re ready to cruise for a while. The hustle is draining… and it’s normal to want to simply enjoy the comfort of our current success. This is okay for a season, but it’s not sustainable.

Why innovate?

Innovation creates flexibility. The marketplace changes over time. Client needs evolve and change with time. My business is built on the concept of strategic partnership with clients. This requires me to adjust my services to meet clients where they are and help them achieve their goals. Innovation gives me the ability to pivot quickly as my clients change.

Let me be clear here. As an expert, I follow a proven process in my work with clients. I guide them through work that creates clarity and empowers them to market more effectively. This is the core of my business. While I might tweak this process at times to respond to specific client situations, this process is pretty stable for me.

But, innovation is vital within the customer service, operations, and marketing areas of my business. The way I engage with clients, support them, and package my services can (and should) shift to become more efficient and better aligned with current client needs.

Innovation expresses creativity. As a child, I learned that “necessity is the mother of invention.” My parents wanted me to view the challenges I faced as opportunities for creative problem-solving. Rather than searching for methods others had tried, I was raised to seek my own answers and innovate. This worldview impacts my entire life… including my business.

Creative work is essential in my business. I use words to engage, motivate, and inspire. You might use your creativity to communicate with design, solve problems for your clients in a consulting capacity, or express ideas in fresh new ways. Your creativity has incredible value and your business success is likely built upon creativity in some way.

The challenges of the marketplace are invitations to creativity. The obstacles and problems of society are waiting for a creative approach to problem-solving. The changing world around you is ready for a fresh, creative perspective. Why not allow innovation to give your creativity a new voice?

Innovation powers profitability. Some of my favorite products came to life through experimentation. Sticky notes are the result of a “failed” experiment- yet they’re now a common and highly profitable office supply. You likely have a pad of them on your desk right now. The thin, non-flammable, insulated blankets used by first responders are a product of the space race of the 60s and 70s. Innovation fuels the profitability of software providers, engineering firms, biomedical companies, and many others. This is the most commonly understood benefit of innovation.

Innovation powers profitability in less obvious ways, too. Toyota famously uses innovation to create operational efficiency, increase quality, and reduce costs across its organization. This approach- known as Lean Methodology- is replicated in various ways across the business world. Changing up your operations to eliminate wasted time, effort, and cost can boost your productivity in ways you might not anticipate.

A health crisis in 2016 forced me to streamline my business operations. I simply didn’t have the time or energy during this season that I’d previously had. I radically eliminated every task that didn’t add value to the client or fulfill an essential function in my business. I condensed my marketing messaging to appeal to the highest value clients in my audience and cut every offer that wasn’t both profitable and sustainable. It was a time of pruning in my business, and just like in my garden, these cuts sparked fresh new growth and vibrant health. Today both my business and I are healthy and strong.

How to innovate safely.

Innovation is another word for experimentation.  Scientists have a proven system of experimentation (the scientific method) that mitigates risk and provides sustainable results. I recommend using a modified version of this approach to innovate safely inside your business.

This process creates a measured approach to change. It’s not overly exciting or sexy. But it provides an alternative to the innovation free-for-all I see often in entrepreneurial circles. I’ve watched respected colleagues and admired peers make radical shifts in their business model because of an inspiring blog post, recently-read book, or exciting new idea. The results are occasionally brilliant- but more often lackluster or even disastrous. Intentional experimentation over time consistently provides better results.   

How to safely approach innovation:

  • Create a clear problem statement. Why are you innovating? Define the problem you seek to solve, the purpose of the experiment, and what is motivating you to explore a different option from the current situation.
  • Identify and evaluate possible solutions. Start by brainstorming ideas and possible solutions. Tap into your creativity and list as many ideas as you can. Then step back and evaluate each idea in terms of potential results and cost of experimentation. Some ideas will be easy to try but offer limited potential results. Others will have huge potential but require a lot of resources just to try. Look for options somewhere in the middle.
  • Create a solution hypothesis. Select a single possible solution from your list, and communicate the results you expect to achieve from this solution. This is called a hypothesis, which is another word for an educated guess. You won’t be sure of the results until you experiment, so make your best prediction given what you know about your circumstances.
  • Limit the impact of experimentation. Scientists understand the risks involved in trying things. They use a lab and put controls in place to make sure things don’t go horribly wrong. You can do the same in your business. Rather than experimenting across the board, set limits and experiment in a small way with a single process step, single offer, limited group of clients, etc.
  • Use a minimum viable product and/or a beta test. Remember, this is a test. Spend as little time as possible “perfecting” something before you know it will work. Throw together a prototype and gather a small audience to test it with personal invitations, rather than a complex marketing strategy.
  • Evaluate results before you implement. Take time to evaluate your experiment from multiple perspectives before you make an implementation decision. Consider feedback from beta test participants, team members, and your own instinct. Ask if this solution truly solved the problem or fulfilled the original purpose.
  • Willingly repeat the process until you receive a sustainable result. Often we look at innovation through a single lens- success or failure. That’s actually pretty short-sighted. Most experiments offer partial success and an opportunity to refine and test again. Be willing to take this path.

Innovation is a powerful catalyst. Take a measured approach.  

It only takes a specific amount of catalytic power to create a reaction. Too much innovation and your business will quickly get out of control. Too little innovation leads to stagnation and bloated systems that have outlived their usefulness. By taking an intentional, thoughtful approach, you can spark sustainable growth and productivity over time.

Excited by a possible shift in your business model, a new offer, or an innovative approach to how you serve your customers? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s talk.

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