When it comes to entrepreneurship, innovation is everything. Just think about once-huge brands like Blockbuster, Nokia, MySpace and AOL. Their inability to keep up with market changes ultimately led to their demise. And there are countless more examples of small- and medium-size businesses that launched with one great idea and fizzled when they failed to evolve.

“To be successful as an entrepreneur, you have to be innovative,” says Manny Teran, an Arizona alumnus and managing partner of Spark Partners, a Tucson-based consulting firm that helps startups grow through innovation. “If you’re not constantly looking at the next thing, the future, you’re going to get run over by someone who is. Innovation needs to be center stage at every stage, from the very beginning.”

Anyone can be innovative once, Teran says, but successful entrepreneurs must adopt an innovation mindset so that they’re constantly thinking of ways to adapt their business. “If you consider what innovation truly is, which is to give customers what they want in new and better ways, it’s really a matter of staying at least in step with your customers and preferably a half a step ahead,” he says.

To do that, you’ve got to have an innovation mindset. But don’t worry if that doesn’t come naturally. There are ways to develop and nurture an innovation mindset, according to Teran. Here are his top recommendations.

1. Step up Your Self-Talk

You’ve heard about the power of positive thinking and self-talk in your personal life. The same principles apply to your professional life. Innovators don’t dwell on the past or focus on the negative. They don’t say disparaging things about themselves or their businesses, even in jest. They tell themselves that every day is a chance to learn and grow. And when they encounter challenges — which are inevitable — they immediately start problem-solving.

2. Surround Yourself With Other Innovators

To develop a true innovation mindset, you need to think like an innovator. And what better way to do that than to interact with other innovators? You’ll not only be inspired by others’ successes, but you’ll also have people to bounce ideas off and help you work through problems you encounter. Consider joining an peer advisory organization like Vistage, asking entrepreneurs you admire to mentor you or seeking support from fellow alumni on the Bear Down Network.

3. Keep an Eye on Trends

Consider it part of your job to know what’s going on in, not only your market and industry, but the world. Reading the news, subscribing to trend newsletters, and spending time on social media discussing your industry can all lead to new, innovative ideas. Likewise, stay on top of innovations and technology that can enhance your business.

“Take Uber, which was a very innovative business model,” Teran says. “If you think about it, it was basically built on the idea of a dating app. You’ve got drivers on one side and passengers on the other, a built-in GPS and some legal framework around it all. They really just applied a current trend to a new market.”

4. Get Into Your Customers’ Heads

“Super innovators understand their customers in a very deep way,” Teran says. They talk to them, shop like them, think like them. They read what they’re reading, see the movies they’re seeing and follow the same influencers they’re following. They ask them for feedback — and, most importantly, take the responses they get to heart.

5. Dissociate Yourself From Your Product

Passion, of course, is essential in entrepreneurship. But you also need to be able to be objective. “It’s easy to get clouded by our own bias,” Teran says. “We fall in love with our idea, to the point where we have customers telling us something different, and we don’t listen. But if you have an innovation mindset, you understand that the needs of the customers come first at all costs, even if it’s to the detriment of your own idea.”

6. Adapt

The above advice will produce lots of data. But in the end, it’s what you decide to do with it that matters. What if Blockbuster had been more aggressive in bringing streaming to market? What if Nokia had developed the smart phone? They might still be big players today. Don’t ignore the information around you. It could mean the difference between becoming Amazon or Borders.


Connect with Innovators

Connect with fellow innovators and entrepreneurs on the Bear Down Network, a professional networking platform for Arizona alumni.