In the late 1930s, George de Mestral went for a walk in the woods. He wanted to catch some damselflies to view them underhis new microscope, but the only thing he was able to catch were scores of sticky burrs in his sock. De Mestral decided to look at the burrs under his microscope to see what made them stick. He discovered that each burr was covered with hundreds of tiny “hooks” that grabbed onto anything with a loop, such as clothing fiber, animal fur, or even human hair.
And that is when George de Mestral had his big idea – his “aha” moment.
If he could figure out a way to duplicate the hooks and loops found in microscopic nature, he could have a new product that would fasten things together without the use of a zipper or button. And so his quest to figure out how to make this happen began.
Being creative usually does not come easily. The very nature of innovation is that the creator sees something extraordinary when others see the ordinary. George de Mestral is a prime example of this. As he took his idea around Lyon, France, every weaver concluded that his hook and loop fastener idea was not feasible. De Mestral persistently continued, and finally found one expert who was willing to try to recreate the burr’s hooking mechanism.
It took almost 10 years, but the inventor finally succeeded in creating this new type of fastener, butthe product still needed a name. De Mestral liked the sound of “vel” derived from the French word for velvet, “velour” and “cro” from the French word for hook, “crochet,” and the name “Velcro” stuck.
Entrepreneurs get ideas all of the time, but how do you, like George de Mestral, take that idea from inspiration to innovation? Several years ago, I wrote a book on that very subject called “The Big Idea.” In it, I examined how great, creative businesses are born. Through my research, I found there are 6 rules for innovation and they are as follows:
1. Think of things that never were and ask, “why not?”: Bobby Kennedy’s famous motto, adapted from George Bernard Shaw, is an apt description of the first ingredient necessary to be creative and innovative in your business. Terrific businesses come from inspired ideas, and it is important to remember that inspiration can strike at any time.
2. The power of one: The second lesson in business creativity is that one person makes a difference. Whatever business or product you look at, you will invariably find that there was some man or woman behind it who worked hard to make it a success.
3. Keep it simple: When you create a new product or offering , you are asking people to give up something tried and true. So, the simplier it is to understand and use – the better.
4. Try, try again: The path of creativity is not always easy. Getting a business right often takes trial and error, followed by a few mistakes, perhaps a couple of bonehead moves, and only then, maybe, a homerun.
When Dr. Percy Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted after standing near a magnetron tube, he realized that something unique had occurred. Yet the first microwave oven took years to develop, and even then was 5 1/2 feet tall, weighed over 750 pounds and cost more than $5,000. It would take years of trial and error before Raytheon was able to create a “radar range” that could be used by the public.
5. Creativity in business requires risk: If an entrepreneur is a person who takes a risk with money to make money, then being a business innovator must make one an uber-entrepreneur. It will not be an easy path. Will it be exciting, crazy, fun, exasperating, rewarding, frightening, and challenging? You bet. But it won’t be easy, and it will require risk.
6. Synergy is necessary: Synergy, a word coined by Buckminster Fuller, is generally thought to mean that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In business, creative solutions usually require joint effort.
M.H. Lawrence wrote this in his book The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred . . . I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.’”
The bottom line is this: To be creative, you have to be bold. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. How have you been innovative lately? Or, how do you plan to increase your small business’ innovation? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss