Author of the book Innovation is a State of Mind (see my book review), James O’Loghlin has featured hundreds of Australia’s inventors and innovators in the eight years he hosted ABC-TV’s programme ‑ ‘The New Inventors’. His other books include A Complete Guide to Public Speaking and How to Balance Your Life; he is also a comedian and has written children’s books.
James joins us in this exclusive interview on creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation.
YS: What are the typical challenges entrepreneurs face as they scale up their company from a startup to a large mature organisation?
JO: One of the greatest challenges a new company faces is to stay innovative as it grows. Almost every company is innovative when it starts, but once they reach a certain size, they spend most of their time coping with today’s challenges, and sometimes ignore the need to be ready for tomorrow.
To address this, organisations need to create a culture where innovation is part of everyone’s job – where innovation is expected, not seen as something extra.
YS: How should innovators strike that delicate balance between ‘Stick to your vision’ and 'Adapt to a changed world’?
JO: It’s a negotiation. Everyone’s vision has to adjust to reality to some degree. If an idea fails, that’s okay. You learn from the experience and move on. I’ve never met an innovator who has said that every idea they have had has worked. We all have ideas that don’t work. It’s part of the process. Believe in your idea, but not to the extent that you ignore the evidence that threatens it.
YS: Who are some of the entrepreneurs you admire the most today, and why?
JO: I just read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and I loved how Jobs always seemed to focus on the customer. He asked, ‘How can I make this simpler and easier for the customer? How can I make them want to use our products?’ These are great questions to ask.
YS: Is there such a thing as the ‘ideal age’ for an entrepreneur, or can the startup bug strike you at any time?
JO: There’s no ideal age. As we get older, we form habits of action and thought, but they can be changed. If you feel stale or that you want a new challenge, look for one. Don’t get to the end of your life with regrets!
YS: Thanks for providing so many good case studies from Australia, we only hear about the usual Silicon Valley stars! Which Australian city today seems to be the most ‘creative’?
JO: The stars get plenty of attention. I am more interested in trying to persuade people that innovation is something we can all do. You don’t have to be a genius. You just have to look hard for things that aren’t perfect in your business (or your life), and then think hard about how to make them better.
I would guess Sydney and Melbourne are more creative cities, because they are the biggest cities and some feel that they have to go to one of those to make it big. But today you can be innovative and entrepreneurial anywhere. The digital revolution makes geography less significant.
YS: How was your book received?
JO: The book was well received. I got a lot of positive responses, and several people told me that they were implementing some of the strategies I suggest into their life and work, so that was good.
YS: In the time since your book was published, what are some notable new innovators you have come across?
JO: There are always new innovations, and they don’t have to be big ones that everyone finds out about. Every day, people make small incremental improvements to how they work and how they live. That’s innovation.
Innovation isn’t just about starting a new company or launching a new product. It’s about systematically and regularly examining everything you do, and trying to think up ways of doing those things better.
YS: Are you planning on becoming an angel investor yourself in some startups?
JO: I mainly work with medium to big companies helping them unblock their innovative potential. I don’t think I’ll become an angel investor and I’m no expert on the venture capital market!
YS: What is your next book going to be about?
JO: I also write children’s novels and my third, The Twins of Tintarfell has just been published
YS: What is your parting message to the startups and aspiring entrepreneurs in our audience?
JO: Be adventurous, but also be careful. Try and do it without exposing yourself too much financially.
Have a Plan B. It’s great if your Plan A succeeds, but what if it doesn’t? What happens then is that if you have a Plan B, it takes the pressure off a little.