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Category: ENTREPRENEURSHIP, The Entrepreneur

Innovation: the bread and butter of sustainable growth
Written by Tendai Tambudze
14 December 2012

At the core of it, starting a business is a very simple concept. It’s all about identifying a need or gap and supplying an appropriate service or product to address it while making a profit. Once a business has been established, the next step is to grow a customer base and sustain the growth. Innovation is one of the most powerful growth mechanisms for any company. The world is constantly abuzz with innovative activity, with new technology, products and services being launched on a daily basis.

Whether a business is just launching, or has been operating for some time, the concept of continually improving the product or service offering through research and development is crucial. The need to keep up with the market and stay relevant should be on the top of every business owner’s mind. To put it in the timeless words of Winnie the Pooh: ‘if it ain’t broken don’t fix it’, and that is advice well heeded if business is good and sales are blooming. But your customer base will invariably move should a better product supplant your own, so how do you know when you need to start thinking about modifying or innovating? There are few symptoms of a declining product or service line. The most obvious is slow or no growth in sales. If company revenue flattens or declines, an explanation needs to be found. Another scenario to watch out for is when the top customers start giving less business.


An understanding of the environment as well as all its shortcomings gives a good foundation for decision making. It is important to be aware of the trends, habits and norms in a business and industry at large. If a business finds itself competing with companies they have never heard of, or is coming under pressure to lower its prices then it’s time to start thinking about innovating. Customers may even start asking for changes to the offering, and this could indicate that the product or service is no longer meeting the market's needs. A product that doesn’t satisfy the market does not get queries from prospective clients.

Once the need for some innovation and changes has been established, the question then becomes - “How?” Innovation can take a few different directions.

One option is specialisation. This involves a specific focus on the needs of a particular sub-set of the market. A niche market can often be identified as they have very particular demands. This calls for focussed concentration on developing something that caters exclusively to that segment of the market. The final product will not be generic and multipurpose, but highly specialised.

A product can also be innovated through simplification. By identifying the aspects of the product or service that are not being used, the redundancies can be eliminated. Bells and whistles often make noise without providing real value to the customer. Simplifying and streamlining also has the obvious advantage of cutting down on unnecessary costs. This is not always easy, after all, Einstein himself said, “Making things simple is true genius, anyone can complicate things. But it takes patience, probing questions and creative thinking to simplify.”

Differentiation is a useful strategy when the market becomes flooded with indistinguishable generics that give customers no real reason for choosing one over the other. Developing standout features which are important to customers plays an important part in drawing and maintaining attention to a particular offering.

Continual innovation has been the very heartbeat of some of the most significant developments.  Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft declared that “Innovation is the most powerful force for change in the world.” Not all industries change and evolve at the pace of the Microsoft; nonetheless innovation can never be ignored in any industry.

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