If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
– Henry Ford (allegedly)
Alright, so this rather famous quote may not actually exist, but its point still stands when it comes to innovation.
And thankfully, we have other entrepreneurs, like Mark Cuban, who argue the same thing: listening to your customers can actually harm your business.
Now before you sharpen your pitchforks, know that I am super keen on creating things your clients want so you can make money. Super keen.
If you’re an online business owner and you create a course because everyone else is doing it, just to find out your current audience only wants 1-on-1 work, well, you just wasted a lot of time and resources. You should probably have talked to your audience or done some other testing to figure that out first.
But truly innovative ideas exist outside a box most people don’t even know they’re in.
Innovation requires risk. It’s the entire purpose of entrepreneurship–to take on great risk for great reward. But traditionally, that reward is monetary, which means best practices are (understandably) followed and your investor’s or mentor’s guidance is closely followed.
But if your reward is innovation…well, you may have to risk the money. At least to start.
Thankfully, if you’re a bootstrapping entrepreneur, you’re likely already risking money. And there is research to suggest that frugal creativity begets innovation.
This is the partially the idea behind my man Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma (in which he also covers when the right time to not listen to your customers is). His disruptive innovation theory suggests that it’s difficult for established companies to be truly innovative, because they’re too busy catering to existing customers and toying with existing products to create cheap new ideas that disrupt the market.
But don’t throw out your upward trajectory for the sake of innovation. Be innovative on the side. Follow best practices, build up a business that matters and that makes money, then use some of that cashflow to get back to the side hustle most of us started our businesses as.
Realistic? Hell yes.
Do you think Henry Ford sprang out of his mother’s womb with a low-cost automobile?
No. He was working as an engineer for Thomas Edison while working on his car concept. He presented his first idea in 1896, then finally established the Ford Motor Company in 1903! That was after trying and failing with his first company, the Detroit Automobile Company, and his second company, The Henry Ford Company! (And, in the spirit of my last blog post, Ford actually did work in his companies as chief engineer)
So own the side hustle, even within your thriving business.
And if you want to be truly innovative? Stop listening to your customers.