August 20, 2013
Enola Labs

Enola Labs creates custom strategy and products for mobile and web.

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Innovation and creativity have become fashionable buzzwords in the age of startups. However, this is mainly because it’s now easier than ever to go from rags to riches with a great business idea. But where do you start? Is there a tried-and-true blueprint for this sort of thing?

My answer would be “probably not,” since everyone’s experience with business is unique, but I will venture to say that there are some underlying principles that can be found throughout successful businesses. I like to think of them as “The Six BEs.”

BE Observant

If you really want to open yourself up to innovation, you have to consider yourself an observer. If you notice that a lot of people seem to be struggling with the same problem, you’ve just identified a pain point. If you can come up with a feasible way to remedy this pain point with the resources you have at hand (or if you can find a reasonable way to acquire those resources), then you’re already on the path to success. Always ask yourself if a process or product you’re observing can be refined to involve less effort and hassle.

BE Discerning

If you’re convinced you’ve got a great idea, so much so that you think it might be wise to start a company, one of the first things I would advise you to do is to thumb through the existing rolodex of your friends and evaluate their strengths in a unique light. If you told them you were starting a company, do you think they would be interested in playing a role? What assets do they have that could really benefit the company? If you have a friend who’s outgoing, extremely well-connected, and keeps up with the latest trends in areas concerning your company, you might consider making them Chief Marketing Officer. If you have a friend that writes all sorts of code into the night just for the thrill of it, consider bringing them on board as a Chief Technology Officer.

Of course, you’re not beholden to that particular nomenclature. President, creative founder, social media rockstar—the taxonomy for establishing hierarchy in your organization is ultimately your choice, not to mention that in the early stages of your company, the titles are often times a formality more than anything else. Roles are fluid; you and your colleagues may be wearing certain hats at one point and switch them at a moment’s notice. The point here is that it is imperative that you tap into the strengths of your existing network for the benefit of your budding company. It’s hard to go it alone, and you shouldn’t have to if there’s an alternative.

BE Burst-Ready

Ideas for solving pain points can and will come to you at any given moment. I like to think of those moments as “bursts of creativity.” If you’re serious about recording your inspirations so that they can be developed into full-fledged solutions, you need to have a strategy so that you can write down those ideas regardless of where you may be at that moment. My personal favorite tool for getting this done is Evernote. It features more than enough storage and nice features (including file attachments and voice memos), and the cross-compatibility with virtually every smartphone & tablet OS on the market means that as long as you tend to have some kind of smart device on you, you could potentially keep adding ideas to the same note from virtually every device out there.

BE Relevant

Keep up with the latest trends to see who and what is killing it in the world of apps or tech in general. What sorts of things hold the most appeal for people these days? To stay up-to-date with the latest news in startups, for example, I personally like reading VentureBeat. Techcrunch is another good source that has a dedicated column for startups. If you’re partial to podcasts or audio content in general, ABC’s Tech Bytes and the Wall Street Journal’s Tech Briefing Podcast are excellent choices. For the more visual people, Jason Calacanis’ talk show This Week In Startups offers a range of quality content on the subject.

BE Realistic

There will come a time when every aspiring innovator will have to face a cruel fact of life: there are certain pain points that exist and persist simply because the technology to solve them is not here yet. Often times, this will be out of your hands. Unless you play a key role in a huge corporation with war chests of cash and scores of manpower at its disposal, you probably won’t have the necessary resources to conduct the research that’s needed to blaze a new trail so that the technology can arrive—and that’s totally fine. Many people have had an idea that was ahead of its time and they couldn’t do much about it.

What you can do, in the meantime, is to wait—but don’t wait idly. Never stop being observant if you’re passionate about your idea. If you’re trying to make a stride in the augmented reality space, keep watching it for developments that will bridge the gap between your big idea and feasibility. Hopefully, your idea’s time will come if you give it time. Always remember the old adage about how good things come to those who wait.

BE Daring

Never, ever think that just because there’s already a bigwig in a particular sphere, there’s no room for your idea. If that were the case, would Google have bothered to create its search engine when Yahoo! was already top dog? Would Facebook have tried to compete with MySpace?

The key to success isn’t always to come up with an entirely revolutionary idea through-and-through. You can just as well build on an existing concept and garnish it with helpful features, a stunning design, or whatever you think it will take to make it stand out from the competition. You just have to believe that your spin on the idea is markedly different enough to make a wave. If you can’t be confident in an idea like that, it’s probably not worth pursuing.

Conclusion

None of the information in this post is particularly revelatory, but that wasn’t my goal. Similar to Dale Carnegie, who essentially compiled a host of wisdom from ages past into a series of self-help books, my aim in writing this blog entry was to provide a sort of starting place for aspiring innovators to consider ways for getting their ideas off the ground. Most of the above is common knowledge, but I wrote about every dimension of it from personal experience, not through any other writer.

I hope that the ideas I’ve put forth here will help people develop their ideas into actionable projects, and that those projects will eventually blossom into successful products or services. Good luck to you!