May - 2016 - issue > CEO Insight


Anil Konkimalla
Founder & CEO-Storeworks
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Anil Konkimalla
There is a lot of academic debate on the topic of creativity, invention and innovation - Is there a difference? If there is a difference, which one is better for an entrepreneur?

"Dad, look at my new idea!" my son constantly said to me. He is a creative child. When he was around seven years old, he used to come to me with creative ideas. His goal in life was to become an "inventor". He would be very excited with each one of his ideas, sometimes with very elaborate designs. My son excitedly shared his ideas and I used to listen, suggest some tweaks. One day I asked him about the goal of all his "inventions" as he called them. He said, "Dad, I want to start a company, sell these ideas and become a businessman like you." So, I pointed to one of his inventions and asked him the reasons why people would buy from him instead of going with other alternatives. He was in deep thought and realized that there was no market for his invention. I encouraged him to follow a simple process of understanding and identifying people's problems in his daily interactions and think if he could apply his creativity to improve people's lives. After he comes up with an idea, he needs to ask himself if it solves people's problems. If it doesn't, can he keep on improving his idea until someone says they will buy it? Now he is 10 years old and he has a solidified process for his creative ideas He presents his ideas with a justification on what problem it solves and why people will buy it.

The same rules of engagement apply to the business world. Not understanding this fundamental concept is the main reason why new companies fail instead of taking off. Some think that creativity is an art and only possible by rare few. Or they think that any creative idea will be a winner without any thought on how those ideas will solve real world problems and whether there is any market impact or ROI. Legendary leaders like Steve Jobs were excellent at applying their creativity. Through the years, they mastered the exceptional skill of deeply understanding the customer's needs and the lack of products or services to satisfy those needs. They applied their creativity to address the real world problems after they understood the market's need, not before. That is the most critical point to be understood in order to be successful in the business world. From the perspective of an entrepreneur, this methodology which has true market impact is innovation. The market impact is the factor that differentiates innovation from creativity and invention. Creative ideas are only ideas until a customer uses it or buys it. Pure inventions sound very good inside a lab, but a good innovation process brings those ideas into market and creates a commercial success!

I come across people all the time who are puzzled when I say innovation is actually a process and not just a random skill that only a few possess. Many companies focus only on creativity instead of understanding what their customers want. Analyzing why and how customers benefit from a creative idea, is of paramount importance in the innovation process. This analysis should be done as one of the preliminary steps in the front end instead of wasting time on meaningless marketing campaigns. What specific pain of the customer is being addressed by your creative idea? Are there any alternative solutions? Why would the customer choose and pay for yours? After the customer chooses your solution, how exactly would it address the problem? When would the customer benefit from your solution? Lastly, timing is one of the most critical factors. Large companies have access to capital and can afford to expend and wait for long periods of time for results. On the contrary, startups and growing small businesses need to focus on rapid returns. So, answering the "when" becomes important. Absolutely encourage creativity, but if you cannot answer all these important questions that would be a huge red flag. Either proceed with extreme caution or drop the idea and go to the next one.

Entrepreneurs should strive to implement a methodical process where every individual employee in the organization understands the innovation process. Every human being is born with innate creativity which is suppressed by corporate red tape. Encourage all your employees to gain deeper understanding of your customers' problems. With this knowledge, empower your employees to bring out their inner creative skills. Implement an ongoing and repeatable process to come up with new products or services that will be welcomed and adopted by your customers. If you apply and perfect this process, you will always stay ahead of the game. The power of many is greater than the power of a few, transforming the entire organization as not only an innovative company, but a commercial success.

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