Entrepreneurs are supposed to be the mavericks of the business world. They're the idea generators. The marchers to different drummers. The innovators who drive the economy forward, by starting businesses and launching new products and services. They redefine technology and change the world around us.
At least, that's how I've always thought of them.
Lately, I'm starting to wonder if some entrepreneurs are losing their sense of curiosity, along with that distinctive maverick swagger that makes them such crucial builders in the business ecosystem.
My clues? At the seminars, workshops and business events that I've been attending recently, more of the attendees seem to come from big companies – and fewer and fewer come from small and medium-sized businesses. It's disappointing really.
Personally, I'm happy to learn from companies large or small. And I'm sure that event organizers don't really care who buys their tickets. But from the perspective of learning and sharing of ideas, I believe that everybody loses. Large companies appreciate the candid, fresh voices of true entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs can always learn something new from one another, as well from the attendees of the national and international organizations that we all hope to grow up to be.
In my column last month, I noted the stunning reality that 80 per cent of new businesses fail. While there are a host of reasons for all these fatalities, I believe that one of the very real answers is that, at the slightest taste of success, many entrepreneurs become complacent and incurious.
We allow ourselves to get lost in our little business bubbles, relying on today's products and services to drive future success. Let's be honest, we can get so focused and myopic that we often neglect to do the things that earned us our success in the first place – getting out of the office, meeting people and asking as many big-picture questions of 'the crowd' as we can.
It is a lovely notion to think that we can hole ourselves up in our new business and bide our time till the big 'cash-out' at the end of the road. But this tactic isn't practical in an economy that demands continuous improvement, refinement and even replacement of our products and services as a matter of course.
Consider the digital picture frame. Ten years ago, these electronic photo albums were all the rage. Today they've been replaced by smart phones and tablets. And how about those Bluetooth headsets? Just a few years ago when the laws began to restrict drivers' cellphone use, we couldn't buy these items fast enough. Today, it's hard to find a new car that doesn't have hands-free built into it, complete with voice-assist and even access to intelligent personal assistants such as Apple's Siri – rendering the headset embarrassingly passé.
Bottom-line: today, everything moves from 'the rage' to 'remember when' before you can say "Trivial Pursuit!"
You need to top up your product and service offerings just like you change the oil in your car. When we neglect to change the oil, our engines stutter, seize and ultimately die.
It's no different in business. No business succeeds without revenue and, ultimately, profit to reinvest in the future. Revenue is generated by satisfied and engaged customers. If you neglect to constantly re-engage your customers with the new and different, they will quickly find a competitor who does.
If you want to think about it as a continuum, then understand that innovation drives marketing, which drives sales. If you take innovation out of the equation, your funnel loses the raw material that drives growth.
Sorry if this sounds doomsday-ish, but, unfortunately, innovation is no longer a nice to have. It's a very real need. As our markets evolve faster and faster we have to ramp up our innovations and improvement, not cut back. Innovation isn't an occasional remedy, like a cough drop, but an everyday necessity, like water.
All this means that innovation – sparked by curiosity and fuelled by constant communication with customer – has become a core competency of today's successful businesses.
If you're not ready to give your customers what they want, keep in mind that innovation is also an engagement tool for your team. Today's employees want to be involved in exciting and meaningful improvement projects.
When I went into business I was taught that to succeed, I had to join a company, put one foot in front of the other, keep my head down and shut my mouth. Today we know that management has no monopoly on creativity. Everyone in the organization deserves and expects to have a voice, to engage in ideation and add value beyond the day-to-day.
If your company culture has moved from thinking, questioning and dreaming to just doing, watch out. Your best team members will gradually disengage, and likely revert to one of the first skills they ever learned: walking.
Revenue, profits, engaged customers and motivated teams are all crucial to your business. Keeping them strong takes constant feeding and renewal. That's why it's so important to hold your head up, sniff the air for new ideas, and keep questioning. Only the curious can change the world.
Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works Inc. is a business and innovation thought leader who is the co-author of two books on innovation including the bestseller, Cause a Disturbance. Ken is also the co-creator of the D!Series workshops (www.theDseries.com) and can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/90per centrule.