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Kickstart your 2016 innovation journey

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Progress in technology facilitates the disruption of established businesses by providing new and easier ways to add-value to customers. This level of disruption comes in waves; making the word "start-up" trendy for a while and reshaping the distribution of wealth. The current disruption wave is all about technology; think internet, mobile devices, big data, open source. 

The next wave is likely to include the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing and medical breakthroughs. This wave is going to change our lives and disrupt established businesses once more, regardless of their current size and reputation. 

Here is my take on how to start your innovation journey in 2016.

From frustration to innovation

Innovation comes from frustration, witnessing real-life issues. Last October I was in Las Vegas for the IBM Insights conference. In a keynote session, Aaron Levie - co-founder and CEO of Box - explained how he got his Eureka moment. As an intern in the film industry, Levie realized that their business processes were not great, having to file tons of paper contracts in a big storage room. After repeating the same task again and again, he thought that there has to be a better way.

Putting together his frustration and knowledge of new technologies was the starting point of Box, an online file sharing and content management service for businesses, employing more than a 1,000 people today. The magic mix was his alertness and knowledge of disruptive technologies.

Finding issues is easy. There isn't a day in the office or on a customer site when I don't hear someone complaining about some aspects of their job that are painful or frustrating. There has to be a better way. By looking around us, we will see things that are hard to do. If you can think of a simpler way or remove the pain altogether, you are on a winner.

Just do it

I am sure that many of us are looking back on past opportunities thinking "if only I went for it..." You are right; opportunities are all around us, but seldom do we decide to change. Maybe we are too comfortable, maybe it is the fear of losing what we have. Disruptive changes don't often come from businesses that have a large income stream from mature products.

It is a balancing act to combine investment in existing as well as future cash-cows. If the focus is mostly on existing products; future growth may suffer. On the other hand, if all investments are going towards new products, you may upset your existing customers and put the business at risk if the new products and services don’t meet revenue expectations.

Have you found something to improve, something you are passionate about? Just do it. You don't have the skill set? Learn and team up. There is nothing that can't be done. You may succeed, you may fail, but whatever the outcome, you are a winner as you will learn something new and build new relationships. Remarkably, unforeseen opportunities will present themselves spontaneously when trying something new.

Four years ago, an association that I support outside work asked me if I could build their website for free. They simply assumed that I could do it since I work in IT. While I have a programming background, I didn't have the knowledge and experience of a full stack web designer. I took it as a challenge and accepted. While it was hard in the beginning, I just did it, using the enormous amount of free knowledge and tools that are available on the internet.

Once completed, I started to get requests from friends, friends of friends to do their websites as well; and today I have designed half a dozen websites. This was an unforeseen turn of events. While I do this as a hobby for friends and family, the outcomes have been very positive in my professional life.

It's not only about money

The last point is about your motivation. If you do it primarily for the money, you will fail to maximize the outcomes. Of course money is important, but at the same time, it is an innovation killer. Without passion, there is little innovation.

Try out this new approach, find your passion, look around you and start a project in 2016.


Paul Goepfert

Paul Goepfert

Paul Goepfert is the Marketing Manager for ERP vendor Pronto Software. @PaulGoepfert

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