Business Technology

Creativity is not just for big companies – SMEs must innovate like global enterprises

7 min read

23 November 2015

Away days in smart hotels, consultants who charge a fortune to come up with ideas that are fun but difficult to implement or brainstorming rooms where staff gaze up at painted clouds while they think the unthinkable. These might be the kind of initiatives that large firms can indulge in but do SMEs really have time to be creative?

SMEs do and must, according to Carl Rodrigues, CEO of mobile device management experts SOTI.

There’s a myth among leaders of many small companies that innovation is just for larger organisations which have R&D departments and employ scientists and engineers,” said Rodrigues. “This misconception prevents many leaders from identifying and pursuing innovations in their business. Consequentially, small businesses could run the risk of failing to identify valuable ideas that would contribute to growing a profitable company. The following guidance can help small businesses innovate like large, global organisations, and implement enterprise level expertise.”

Many small business leaders, according to Rodrigues, talk about creativity and innovation being critical for an organisation to maintain its competitive advantage surviving while evidence of practical commitment to this important principle is harder to come by.

Unless concerted efforts are made to nurture and encourage creativity and innovation by the boss of a SME, this culture will simply fizzle out and die. Some organisations, however, have found a way to stimulate creativity among employees, thereby converting intriguing ideas into commercially viable solutions, products and ventures that differentiate the company and its customers. 

“SMEs can look to large organisations that have found success in fostering this type of culture,” said Rodrigues. “At SOTI, we know that no single practice enables us to identify and capture new opportunities, instead it often requires people to pull and push a variety of levers to bring it to life. There are certain individuals – referred to as ‘intrapreneurs’ who are naturally inclined to deliver this fresh and creative thinking. However, they need to be unbound from the day-to-day pressures which typically act as a roadblock to free thought and ideas.”

Even though small businesses have fewer employees, there is often confusion about what is causing a lack of creativity. Rodrigues argued that rather than simply assuming that employees aren’t imaginative, small business leaders must ask, “Are there any obstructions in the organisation which block ideas before they are adequately expressed?”

He explained: “The real focus for any successful business, big or small, may not lie solely with getting employees to come up with inventive ideas, but rather in finding the best, most practical ways of implementing those ideas.”

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Small businesses are sometimes bogged down in process, be it bureaucratic red tape, lack of planning or cash flow problems. These day-to-day pressures can drain the innovative spirit out of a team and be bad for morale. Therefore, they should create ‘pods’ for the pursuit of innovative freedom, believe in the employees and allow them to take risks and reward success and even failure in innovation.

“In order to make this happen at SOTI, we recently established development units to create a dynamic working environment, as it would be impossible to keep pace with the innovation required to stay ahead in a competitive mobile market without having processes in place for radical thinking about our offerings,” he said. “For example, we have special projects in our research and innovation lab isolated from corporate headquarters in a no-holds barred think tank environment for prototyping innovations for the connected enterprise. The only task is to uncover futuristic innovations for the connected world that answer the question ‘What if?’.”

It’s not just product development that needs creativity, according to Rodrigues. Any employee in a small business has the potential to think like an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, too many bosses rarely turn employee “blue sky thinking” into a practical change within the business. “There’s a responsibility within the leadership team to give employees the time and space they need to think creatively, and turn their innovative pursuits into reality – and thus drive a creative culture in all facets of the business,” he said.

SOTI recently introduced a new programme called “SOTI Jolt,” which is intended to encourage and provide employees with dedicated time towards innovative pursuits, either technology or business based.

“The programme encourages employees to propose new project ideas to a committee, and if the idea meet the criteria of the programme, the employee and a team of SOTI employees that he or she personally selects are offered ‘Innovation Time,’ which is up to 20 per cent of each working week, to bring their concept to life,” said Rodrigues. “The programme allows employees to work on projects that they are passionate about, and in turn, pushes the company’s innovation to new heights.”

Guidelines need to be set in place to help get ideas off the ground and to meet the needs of the business, he argues. Having parameters in place creates a safe environment for people to push their idea to its limits – and reduces people’s fear of failure, meaning they are more likely to have confidence in their decisions.

He added: “Once you have created a creative culture, and put employees in an environment where they can be freed to imagine the possibilities, you can convert these ideas into realities. For ideas to grow, companies should embrace this mind-set, and be open to it.”