Innovation strategies for small business.

Tim O’Reilly, the ‘father of web 2.0’, spoke at the recent GreenBiz Innovation Forum in San Francisco. He described innovation as an imperative, and compared the current state of the sustainability economy to those of the web movement he helped to build (his company literally created one of the first commercial websites) a scant decade or two ago.

Two key imperatives to innovate that O’Reilly pointed out came from examples he gave from Google, Zynga, and Apple that may have paved the way for some best practices that other companies, including small companies may benefit from.

  1. People are having fun.
  2. People are creating real livelihoods through their innovation.

All this while these same people are working within a platform created by a meta-organization. For example, Apple boasted at a recent developers conference that they’d officially paid out $1 B in revenues to independent developers. Google is innovating in areas as diverse as self-driving cars, geothermal development in West Virginia, and maps that allow us to see actual pictures of places in the world we may never be able to visit. These companies are, in essence, fertile farms that allow others to thrive.

What’s the lesson(s) for your company?

Mr. O’Reilly suggested the way to get there is really to focus on the fun. Make it a cool future. Not just an innovative future, but a weird, interesting, and fun one that really can engage other participants. If you make it fun, others will want to play, too. If you also make it such that others can profit, then innovation for your company will spring from without, all the while benefitting your company.

A farmer’s market, for instance, can innovate by letting their growers have an opportunity for collaborative engagement with each other, in a way that allows them to raise some capital and do something sustainable, which is likely to then engage customers. Could growers collaborate on a lottery or a grab bag with terrific prizes (a year’s worth of organic veggies in a CSA?), and tie it into consumers bringing their own bags? Of course they could. Does it raise money for the growers? Yep. Does it benefit the farmer’s market? Yep.

How can you do it at your company? Got a suggestion for innovation on small scale?

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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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