Design Engineering

Does innovation need to be disruptive to make an impact?

By Design Engineering Staff   

General Innovation

Study finds that, for Canadian small business, subtle change trumps massive shift.

For many, “innovation” evokes notions of “radical change” or “transformation,” but Canada’s 2.4 million small business owners have a different definition. For them, innovation is less about disrupting markets and more about changes that generate the greatest impact for them and their livelihood.

These are among the findings in a Canada-wide survey commissioned by Intuit Inc., uncovering how the nation’s small business owners define innovation, their goals and its effects on the bottom line.

The poll revealed near-unanimous agreement (97 per cent) among Canada’s small business owners that innovation is a key to success but it’s not about massive change or innovation for its own sake. Rather, it’s the innovations that impact business, which respondents defined as new or different strategies, processes or practices enacted for positive business results.

Instead of radical disruption of the status quo, they have taken a more subtle approach by making changes to existing products and services, upgrading technology or improving customer relations and internal processes. Overwhelmingly, among those who have applied this type of approach to innovation, 98 per cent found that it positively affected their business.


Many small business owners, particularly sole proprietors, tend to manage everything from dealing with customers to shutting off the lights at the end of the day. When asked to describe the current state of their business, results show that more sole proprietors see their businesses slowing down compared to their larger counterparts (6-100 employees) who are more likely to be growing or booming. Over the past year, 53 per cent of sole proprietors made innovative changes versus 90 per cent of those with 6-100 employees, suggesting that larger staffs sharing the workload may free up time for owners to concentrate on innovating for impact.

Tips for Igniting Innovation
“Unless you’re trying to change the rotation of the Earth, experimenting with a series of impactful, strategic changes can be extremely effective in actually saving time and making money,” said Pamela Bailey, experience design manager at Intuit Canada. “In working with numerous small businesses in Canada and around the world, we’ve found a few recurring themes that have proven to help small business owners ignite further innovation.”

Place your bets and lots of them: Putting all your eggs in one basket can be a big gamble. Small business owners tend to experiment with a number of small changes. If one doesn’t quite pan out, the risk is less.

Bigger, faster or better? Some of the most successful innovation doesn’t come from an overhaul, but simply concentrating on doing something better. That can be as simple as improving customer service to deliver greater value.

Save time on the back end: Administrative and financial management tasks eat up a lot of time. Greater efficiency leaves more time to devote to actual business.

The results of Intuit Canada’s nation-wide study will form the foundation of a small business roundtable discussion to be held in Toronto, Ontario, during Small Business Week (Oct. 17 – 21).


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