Keeping the Family Business Innovative

“either be at the table, or be on the menu”

Turning a family farm into an amusement park, a funeral home that doubles as a wedding chapel, or a furniture store that has an IMAX theater. Even the most ordinary businesses can be innovative.

To keep the business growing past the initial wave of success you have to try new things. You have to remain entrepreneurial and keep innovating. Staying still is no longer an option. It’s especially challenging in a family business where the founder is the idea person and the younger generation has to inherit these skills.

How often do you hear an industry expert say?

  • “You have to be more innovative.”
  • “How innovative is your company?“
  • “What’s your innovation strategy?”

Innovation has become a cliché, almost corporate speak. It seems so vague and nebulous. To me, it just means think differently. Period.

How do you even get started with being more innovative?

These are some things we do in our family business to keep entrepreneurial and innovative:

  • Getting outside our industry
  • Avoiding recycled ideas
  • Meeting with academics
  • Attending conferences and seminars
  • Making time for business reading

Have lunch with a local University business academic. It’s comfortable for you to rely on the same old proven strategies within your industry. The problem is every one of your competitors is doing the same thing. These ideas tend to be recycled each year and can become stale and limiting. Think outside the boundaries by discussing your business with an academic. They will force you to look at more general trends from other markets outside of your own, creating more unique and effective ideas. Request extra napkins to write down your new ideas.

Attend a business conference (but not in your industry). Attending your own industry trade events is important for networking. But the speakers and topics tend to be much of the same re-treaded and re-circulated ideas from last year. Break out of this vicious cycle and go to a different industry conference to get some fresh thinking. The types of companies will be different, but don’t we all share the same goal, growing our business through increased customers/clients and sales.

Start a Business Book Club.  Reach out to your peers in your town or local area to organize a business book club.  Each month, read a bestselling business book and discuss it. Maybe it’s over an informal lunch at each of your companies, or even by conference call.  The discussions will usually turn to your individual business situations. The more different the companies involved the better.

However you go about staying innovative, the key is to just think differently. It’s so easy and comfortable to manage the business the same. But if you don’t try new things and move forward you’ll surely fall behind as others pass you.