Innovation: What’s in it for Me?

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By Marshall Doak
Director, Southern Oregon University SBDC
OSBDCN Market Research Institute

The title of this article is to personalize a concept that has been given a lot of attention over the past couple decades. Innovation typically is defined on the organizational level, and a cursory web browser search brings up numerous definitions of what innovation is. Invariably, the concept of innovation is linked to company culture or operations. If this is not the case for you, then the discussion of innovation is an academic exercise, still worthy of thought and reflection in its own right.

A few ideas spring to mind when I look at innovation and how it is perceived in the regional business community.

‘Innovation’ denotes activity, energy and positive movement;

When recognized, innovation typically sparks interest and support from the viewers’ perspective;

A company that innovates oftentimes has higher employee buy-in to supporting the company’s mission, vision and values.

When companies adopt innovation as a core strategy and execute it well, a shift takes place in the culture of the company which can have a profound positive effect on the bottom-line profitability. As business owners, this is one great example of what is in it for you. Increased profitability, a challenge to achieve in this economy. Adopting an innovative culture pays off in the long run.

The definition I use for innovation is the first one I encountered years ago:

Innovation = Invention + Commercialization

Just having an idea, product, brand, logo or other specific ability or asset does not add value to your company if you can’t get it out to the marketplace and benefit your customers and your business. This is the essence of many definitions of innovation that have been developed over time, an inward object of ‘invention of the new’ coupled with the external delivery and benefit creation element. All the energy, hype, excitement and creativity are wrapped around this simple concept to define the organizations’ culture and provide some of the enjoyment that being in business can have for an owner.

As we gain experience with a changed economy as a result of the Pandemic which is closing-in on two-years of existence, what is your stance on innovation? How are you thinking through adopting or creating something new, to keep your goods and services fresh in your customers’ minds? How are you adopting innovative processes and procedures to lighten the labor burden within your organizations, to remain effective while working on lean concepts? How has your Value Proposition changed over the past two years and do your customers and suppliers know about it? If the answer to the last question is ‘no’, then how are you creating new value to sustain your business?

Working on Your Business

A critical business assessment to inform you of areas that are weak, and if strengthened, can create value and wealth for you over time. Having a third-party assess your business is a prudent management action to take. Aligning yourself with other business people who innovate can cause synergies to be recognized and add value to your operations. One innovative act creates others, something that becomes easier over time to achieve and benefit from. Challenging your employees to participate and support group work to create a culture of innovation reaps great rewards, as the largest expense most businesses have are employee-related. Gaining increased value from your largest expense category can be a game-changer for most small businesses.

Timing is Key

Common question arise, including: 

When should I start working on creating an innovative environment in my company? 

What is my innovation, and do I need it in hand to start a process? 

Who do I talk with in confidence to develop my innovation(s)?

Answers to these questions and the many others you will ask as you go through a process of engagement with your business operations, personnel and market development activities is rather simple. Start today! Start with dedicating yourself to improving your business in daily increments. Start with finding a person who you can place trust in and who will keep your conversations confidential. Once chosen, a good guide can assist in developing the timeline and milestones needed to measure progress on achieving the development of a new culture that supports your business into the mid-20’s.

In Southern Oregon, there are active entrepreneurs who are working on developing a culture of innovation. Once a region is recognized for hosting innovative companies, other energetic individuals and companies are drawn to the area to participate in an innovation economy. This synergistic effect is one other way to build and position your company to financially benefit from the growth that innovation brings. Consider participating for your company’s and your family’s benefit.

Marshall Doak is the Director of the Southern Oregon University Small Business Development Center and a huge supporter of innovation and the community that forms around innovation in the economy. In private practice, he works with businesses that plan to transition to new ownership within the next five years, assisting them to build value that can be converted to retirement income when the business sells. He can be reached through: or 541-646-4126.

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