Why do businesses innovate, and what is the big deal about innovation anyway? I mean, isn’t it just a case of taking apart an invention and tweak it to make it more appealing and saleable? Sounds like a sure fire winner to me, and just the ticket for anyone out there sharp enough to see the potential of a new invention. And, there lies the rub — the ability to see the potential.

Innovation is serious business, as it all about change that never stops looking and refining the next ‘big idea’. Michael Treschow, Chairman of Unilevercalled it as putting in the “wow factor” —

“…where the company’s innovation team brings more highly appreciated products to the consumer so that they say “Wow, this is really something I would like to have.”

Now, this is wonderful if you have an innovation team like Unilever. As would, Nestle, LVMH, Ford, and a host of other medium and large companies that have the resources to hand a blank page to a group and tell them to think of the next ‘big thing’. Innovation is a genuine business tool in any organization’s growth to reach and stay valid to its customer and consumer base.

How then do small businesses innovate? Surely they can’t all be followers or hanging on the coat tails of a larger supply chain. The hanging-on allows you to stay in business. However, it does not allow you that small luxury of asking “am I in the business of my choice?” There are enough empirical and historical answers to how a garage shop set-up grew to be a zillion dollar business. But, not much on the innovative process behind that, and the all important identifying of the white spaces in the segment. Once you’ve identified the white space, then you can focus within a defined space, and come up with the next big thing.

Maybe there is a way to provide a ready-made out-of-the-box innovation package to small businesses which helps them to identify the white spaces. This does not mean that there is no place for the whacky idea that takes the world by storm. However, not all of us have that spark to take the science of a business and make a business of the science.