I love the word innovation. I've attempted to read every book that's ever been written on the subject. When you look up the definition, it's: "make changes in something established by introducing new methods, ideas or products."
It's such a good word, as compared to invent. Invent is different: "to create or design something that has not existed before. Be the originator of." Success in innovation is to introduce new methods, ideas or products around something that already exists.
For entrepreneurs and startups looking to drive an industry forward, innovation is within everyone's grasp. The simplest anecdote actually translates directly to my personal experience - neither ENVE nor Mavic invented the wheel, but what did we do? We innovated on the adage of "reinventing the wheel" by developing a proprietary process that created a more durable, reliable, better riding experience.
While it's tongue-in-cheek to talk about reinventing the wheel, what really inspires me is creating a company culture built on innovation. I believe it's important to foster innovation beyond just R&D, and that the spirit should be inherent in your sales team, customer service, testing department and even your receptionist.
Here are five principles anyone can apply to foster that kind of environment.
Fail fast, fail cheap. We have upwards of 100 experiments going on at any given time, and those exist all around the company. The question is can you do it quickly, efficiently, and with existing resources? The whole goal of the "fail fast, fail cheap" mentality is do it quick, learn and iterate.
Create an environment where it's safe to fail. I'm talking about flat-out-on-your-face kind of fail. Creating this environment starts with you, at the top. You must be comfortable with failure as a person and as a leader. My philosophy is if you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough, but that's a tough thing to get to when you're in an environment where failure is not exactly celebrated.
To start, the first thing you can do is say, "I'm not sure this is going to work, but this is what I'd like to try." It's a simple statement and you're already sort of prepping the audience about the potential to fall short. The second is to celebrate the failure. We have a ton of products at ENVE that have never seen the light of day. When we fail, we celebrate the failure - the designer of the "dog" wears the product around his neck for a week to show that it exists and afterward we put it on a shelf and point to it as an example of how we failed. You have to embrace it.
Challenge the status quo. Our sister company, Mavic, is a 125-year-old iconic French brand. Challenging the status quo is a great opportunity, so the question is not "Why?" but "Why not?" Innovation spins out of this question, I assure you.
Give the team enough resources and time, but not too much. This one might feel odd, but consider that excess of time and money can breed complacency and over-engineered products, whereas scarcity or the perception of scarcity fosters innovation and unconventional thinking.
Less, but better. Not only is this true at work, it's a personal life philosophy. Less, but better, is different than less, but more. You have five things that are supposed to be top priority? Pick three. If there are 10 things that are a priority, pick five.
Collectively these five principles come back to one main philosophy — failure is good, and breeds innovation. Just figure it out quickly and move on. If you do that while challenging your teams to push their own boundaries, well, that's how you reinvent the wheel.
About the author: Sarah Lehman is the CEO of ENVE Composites, a leader in the design and manufacturing of state-of-the-art carbon fiber bicycle components.
Edited for length and clarity by Nicole Fallon Taylor. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Email your pitch to Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org.