Years ago I read Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma. I love that book because it’s a caution against businesses becoming too comfortable and stagnant. The basic message of the book, that leading businesses are susceptible to being overtaken in the marketplace by smaller, more nimble and risk-oriented competitors, has stuck with me ever since. What’s interesting though is that up until recently, I always imagined that message applied solely to large businesses. They were the ones at risk. Their smaller competitors and small businesses in general were immune to the dilemma because their size and limited market opportunities essentially forced them to move quickly and accept risk simply out of necessity. But now, I no longer believe this is true.
On a personal level
I know that my business is at its core a design products and services company. Or is it a micro-bakery? This is a trick question because the answer is neither. My business is both. I know this to be true because I intentionally decided not to make it one or the other. And yet on a weekly basis, I’m surprised when I find myself feeling less than productive if I’m not working within one of the two traditional models upon which my business is built. You see, if I’m doing design work, or baking, I feel highly productive. But too often, when I allow myself the space to explore the possibilities that exist from commingling the two fields, all of a sudden I feel like I’m goofing off. Spending significant time in this creative nexus feels almost irresponsible. My business, which exist entirely of me alone, suffers from a ingrained bias against innovation. I am the dilemma! The irony here is that, in a marketplace filled with small design firms and local bakeries, I absolutely need to intentionally focus on doing whatever it is that helps my business stand out. And unlike large businesses, I have less financial wherewithal to do so.
As a small business owner I can ill afford to sink precious time into efforts that may not bring in revenue. And yet, if I don’t focus on those same efforts, I risk becoming a commodity. Just another fill-in-the-blank business that does the same whatever as everyone else for a competitive price. Ugh. If that’s what this was all for, I should have just stayed where I was. But I didn’t. I left philanthropy because I had an idea for how I might work if I wasn’t tethered to a traditional model that prescribed how and with whom I could provide value to people and communities. I left because I had confidence in my ability to move beyond the norm a create something more intriguing. Something where if I wasn’t the only fish, at least I’d be swimming in a much smaller section of the ocean.
To accomplish this vision, I need to spend time on norm-bending, innovative work. Time spent in innovation is an investment in me. And although that work may at times feel less productive, I need to remind myself how necessary it is toward achieving the less obvious outcomes my business requires. Outcomes that just may allow me thrive in times when others struggle, or more quickly notice and adapt to changing trends, or maybe, to simply stay one step ahead of the of the times.
Think about that.