It seems obvious that businesses should want to innovate. New ideas, new revenue streams, stealing a lead on your competition: what’s not to love? And yet innovation — the very concept of doing something new and different and untried — seems to terrify so many of the businesspeople and wannabe entrepreneurs I meet in Australia.
We often hear that one the challenges Australian startups face is a shortage of venture capital. We don’t hear nearly enough about the related problem: a shortage of courage. Given the option of being brave, too many business leaders decide to take the option of being safe instead. Innovation just doesn’t get a look-in.
Yes, innovation is risky. You can’t innovate unless you accept that there’s a very real likelihood of failure. Even if your idea ultimately works out, there will be a lot of mistakes and diversions along the way. You’ll waste time and you’ll waste money. Make your peace with that right now. It’s the price of entry.
I’ve learned that the hard way. The first time we tried to build a mobile phone comparison tool at finder, we invested a quarter of a million dollars in the project — and it failed. We hadn’t tried hard enough, we didn’t have enough people on the project and it didn’t get the traction it needed. But we didn’t give in. We doubled down, invested even more money, built world-leading technology and hired some of Australia’s leading experts. We persisted and we succeeded.
Innovation isn’t about perfection
With innovation, you’re not aiming for perfection: you’re shooting for eventual success. You have to grant yourself and your team permission to make lots of screw-ups on the way. You don’t want to repeat mistakes, but you don’t want to stop making them.
Equally importantly, you have to move away from a mindset where risk management is your major concern. Any time we’re trying to develop a new idea at finder, worrying about risk does not get a seat at the table. The focus is on what we can do that’s better, that’s amazing, that exploits technology, that makes a difference to our customers. Any idea that meets those criteria is bound to be risky, but that doesn’t scare me. It excites me.
Fred Schebesta is the co-founder of comparison site finder.com.au. Their inaugural Innovation Awards will take place in Sydney on November 10.
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