Every entrepreneur and every business I meet in my consulting and mentoring role has great intentions of bringing real innovation to the market, yet I find that most ideas are merely small extensions to existing solutions.
I believe we need more non-linear "out of the box" thinking, to come up with the next step beyond the iPhone, or the next big step in transportation technology.
I often wonder how to get more people to think like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and a few others, who not only dream the big dreams, but can translate them and focus on results. To me, as a potential investor, this focus on results is key, and comes from a higher mindset of passion and delivery, including the following elements:
1. Solve a problem, rather than sell your solution.
Inventors are always talking about what they can do with technology, before sizing the need and the market. On the other end of the spectrum, entrepreneurs are quick to propose one more feature that they can do easily. Both fail to look first at what customers really need, and are willing to pay for.
For example, DoorDash is a highly successful new food delivery service allowing people to order from local restaurants through a mobile application. It addresses a growing customer need, especially in times of a pandemic, with an innovative platform and logistics.
2. Promote a better future, rather than a product.
It's easy to become enamored with your solution, but customers need to understand the value for them in terms of the big picture. That means value in the short term (lower cost, new capability), as well as long-term value for society and the environment. People need both to connect and buy-in.
3. Motivated by challenges, not potential paychecks.
Real innovators are motivated by the challenges and objectives, more so than the size of the opportunity, or the potential to create a world-wide organization. They relish the learning, getting out of their comfort zone, and shaping the future. This means taking the long-term and strategic view first.
Elon Musk has often said that he is driven more by the challenge of breaking free from the Earth as the cradle of humanity, than by money. He asserts that life should not be about making enormous amounts of money, but that's easy for a billionaire to say.
4. Always expanding relationships and partnerships.
People who dream the big dreams, and can translate them into results, are constantly testing their thinking and learning from more experts and new relationships. Being around new people is the best way to expand your thinking and find the right people to collaborate on new projects.
5. Progress requires an action-oriented strategy.
I find that many entrepreneurs are great talkers about their intentions, but are short on specific action plans. A good business plan has specifics on the results you are striving for, with milestones, timetable, and financial projections. These are necessary for your own use, as well as for investors.
6. Provide leadership and inspiration to others.
Some people seem to have a natural ability to attract and inspire others to join them, and lead all to achieve results even beyond their own dreams. No matter how capable you are personally, you need a team to succeed in business, with skills and thinking that are complementary to yours.
Sir Richard Branson is an excellent model of this approach, by continually inspiring those around him to new heights. His Virgin Group of over 400 companies, mostly led by entrepreneurs he mentored, spans the innovative gamut from space travel to healthcare.
With my years of experience in big companies as well as startups, I find that entrepreneurs and startups are in the best position to identify really innovative intentions, as well as execute on them.
Existing businesses have to overcome the gravity of existing products and thinking, so they most often buy startups with broader innovations, rather than creating them internally.
This means that all of you can compete, even if you are starting from scratch. I urge you to keep bringing your ideas to the rest of us, learn from the strategies offered here, keep a special focus on implementation, and together we can bring real change to the world.