American business is grounded in innovation. From the first automobile to the first computer tablet, the products and companies that stick in our societal consciousness are the ones that take us in unexpected directions. Simply put, to innovate is to excel.
Most startups enter their industries with a novel idea or operating model. However, few companies have been able to continually innovate over the course of their histories. Staying innovative in your industry requires dedication and resolve, but it isn’t impossible. Here are three suggestions to consider:
1. Look to the future
If your company is currently enjoying tremendous success, it might be tempting to linger in the present. History is rife with examples of startups that have unseated established businesses. The velocity at which industry mainstays can be overtaken is surprising. HTC, a Taiwanese smartphone company, claimed 20% of the American smartphone market and was second only to Apple in 2010. Just four years later, HTC’s market share hovers at 5%, far behind Samsung’s 27%.
HTC consistently wins awards for its smartphone design, including the Global Mobile Award for Best Smartphone of the Year, but a stellar product or service alone will not ensure you remain first in your field. The mechanisms and operations that allow you to effectively market and sell your goods are just as important. Network effect, for example, is a fantastic ally. Samsung produces great devices—and only that. There is minimal network effect. Apple, on the other hand, has a product suite that reinforces the purchase and utilization of other Apple products, thus increasing its staying power. Also, consider the network effect that Google’s products exert—all your data exists in Google software—ensures your switching costs are much higher than with Apple. Ultimately, Google’s long-term business plan may reign supreme.
So, how can you mimic a giant like Google? Try to forecast revolutionary innovations. What products or services would render your company obsolete? What small changes can you put in place now to be able to adapt better tomorrow? (Can you accomplish a task faster and for less money?) Who can you foster relationships with that can read the landscape of your industry? Business conferences and workshops are great places to meet people both in and out of your field. You might also wish to network with venture capital investors, who see every innovative organization in every industry.
2. Don’t be afraid to emulate others
As children, we’re taught to avoid copying, but imitating and improving upon the work of others in your industry can pay dividends. What new products or services do your competitors have? Is this an innovation you should adopt? When startups appear, why do they appear? What void are they attempting to fill, and what are they offering that others do not?
Take Vizio, for instance. Vizio was not the first business to sell flat screen or HD televisions. The company carved a niche for itself by creating affordable products that rivaled the performance capabilities of far pricier brands. In 2012, Vizio led LCD television sales in the United States, and they continue to push boundaries today. Their TV sound bars are consistently ranked highly for their performance and price, and the company’s extended product line includes a host of other television accessories.
Processes being used in other industries can also inspire you. If you encounter a petrochemical business whose sales processes seem ideally suited to your field, consider tailoring them to your needs, even if your products are polar opposites. Henry Ford, of Model T fame, allegedly took inspiration from meatpacking plants when he devised an assembly line for his car manufacturing.
3. Experiment with multiple avenues or ideas
Innovation is not instantaneous or magical. Instead, it is the result of continual probing and questioning—in other words, hard work over an extended period of time. Many companies fail to fully invest in research and development, or they devote their resources to a single idea that may or may not prove successful.
Great businesses do the opposite. They build a strong R&D department, they pursue multiple possibilities, and they broaden their gaze to the industries around them. If you cast your net only as wide as your company or your field, you only encounter the ideas that your industry is already talking about. One possible way to strengthen innovation in your startup is to establish a platform for your team members to share and test their ideas. This is often one of the simplest, and most powerful, ways to remain on the cutting edge of your field.
True innovation takes effort. There is no easy path or shortcut to success. Be willing to invest the time and resources to nurture innovation, and your business will flourish in the long term.
Chuck Cohn is the CEO and founder of Varsity Tutors, a technology platform for private academic tutoring and test prep designed to help students at all levels of education achieve academic excellence.
This article was written by Chuck Cohn and Contributor from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.