Several years ago, the word disruption might have conjured up thoughts of bad behavior. Now it’s often paired with the words creative, innovation and economy. Some may think only young people bring disruption to the business world. But it’s not about age, it’s a way of thinking.
As we move further into the 21st century, change is happening at an increasingly rapid pace. Change can feel disruptive, but it also brings about the stuff of our dreams.
If you’ve found yourself daydreaming about an idea for a business and striking out on your own, you’re not the only one. Though when you first start out, you might be working alone. According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of businesses without paid employees rose for the third year in a row to 22.7 million in 2012.
Those numbers include sole proprietorships, corporations and partnerships. William Bostic Jr., Associate Director for economic programs at the Census Bureau said “Nonemployer businesses represent entrepreneurship in perhaps its purest form, including the classic 'mom and pop' shops and people running businesses out of their homes.”
Being innovative will give your business a competitive edge. However, developing an innovative mindset doesn’t always come naturally. Here are some practical tips to help you as you follow your innovation journey.
1) Embrace Failure & Be Vulnerable
Joi Ito, an early investor in many successful companies, including Flickr, Kickstarter and Twitter is now Director of MIT Media Lab. Ito was interviewed on Innovation Hub and said that a key to success is a willingness to experiment and fail in order to learn.
Nobody wants to fail, because it opens us up to judgment and criticism, both by ourselves and others. Starting a business requires a great deal of effort and much of that effort is public. But according to a TED Blog interview, Brené Brown, known for her TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, says “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” She also stresses the “need to accept and embrace the concept of failure, not because failure is a good thing but because it’s a natural part of the path of progress.”
2) Find Your Tribe
In the 1960s and 1970s, small groups of women would get together and discuss their lives. The groups spread across the United States and grew into the Women’s Liberation Movement. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people can help provide different perspectives and inspiration.
If you haven’t found your group yet, start by meeting people with similar interests. Find a local Meetup in your area or form your own group. Many cities have innovation centers and districts with collaborative workspaces and programs to help support entrepreneurs. Try reaching out to them for information and you might meet some similarly business minded folks as well.
3) Discover Silence
Finding time for quiet and self-reflection is thought to help nurture the workings of our subconscious minds. A Fast Company article about chemical engineer Mandar Apte reveals that even major global companies are looking for less than traditional ways to foster innovation.
At Shell, Apte helped create a program called Empower. Through training, which includes breathing and meditation techniques, he helps employees increase their creativity and cultivate the mindset needed for innovation. A central belief is that “silence is the mother of all creativity” and that the innovation process can involve everyone.
4) Get Curious
In order to innovate, you might wonder if you know enough in your chosen field. Further, you may need to sharpen your marketing skills and business savvy. Free online courses could be the way to go. There are many places to choose from including: Khan Academy, Coursera, edX, MIT OpenCourseWare and Harvard Open Courses.
Talk to people that you admire and find out how they got started. Seeing how others followed their own paths to start businesses can inspire us to reflect on our own lives. That inspiration may lead to an innovation. If there is nobody that you know personally, you can read biographies.
Also read articles and watch videos, like TED Talks for news about companies and people doing great things. On television, ABC’s Shark Tank gives a weekly dose of pitches by entrepreneurs seeking funding from the Sharks. We not only get to see innovative products and learn about new companies, but we also learn the back story of the founders. As a bonus, we see the Shark’s feedback and find out what the businesses did right and mistakes that were made.
A PBS television program called Road Trip Nation is another way to take a virtual trip into the lives of people who have dreamed up unconventional careers. Although the show follows groups of young people in their early twenties, they interview people of all ages across the United States. A central theme of the show is that we all have different talents, interests and opportunities. The key is to know what we want, keep an open mind and be ready when opportunities arise, because they will.
5) Open Yourself to New Opportunities & Be Brave
NPR’s Radiolab host Jad Abumrad was interviewed for the show. He says, “You should be panicking a certain amount of the time. Because then you’re right at the edge of what you can do. You need a little bit of uh-oh in your creative life, just enough. Think about right before a liquid turns to a gas. The molecules begin to vibrate and bump into each other and get agitated—things are never happy or comfortable at that moment of change, but sometimes that unhappiness just means you’re doing something worth doing.”
Life Reimagined is an AARP website and community that guides you through change. You can also find examples by peeking into the lives of others through their featured stories. One such story is John Ryland, who was laid off from his job after eleven years working in advertising. He had started building motorcycles as a hobby and really enjoyed it. While he was hesitant at first, he decided to jump in fully and give his hobby a chance to see if it could earn real money. His custom bike and design shop Classified Moto is his job now.
You might have something that you’ve always loved to do, but haven’t taken the leap of faith to try self-employment. The only thing definite is that if you don’t try, you won’t succeed. But if you do, you just might create something unique and never look back.