A Business Lesson From The Australian Outback

There are several kinds of trees in the Australian outback that need fire in order to survive. The seeds of these trees won’t germinate unless the outer shell of the seeds are burned off by a bush fire.  For thousands of years, this process happened naturally. The aboriginal populations who lived in those areas recognized this and never tried to prevent natural bush fires from happening.

As settlers from Europe populated Australia, however, they started to burn off underbrush to control those same fires to protect nearby homes and people.  As they tragically learned in 2009 when unprecedented heat waves led to huge fires in Australia that sent plumes of smoke over major cities – depriving the land of fire was simply not possible. Eventually the fire still came.

Creating a business that is able to consistently innovate requires a type of thinking more akin to the aboriginals and how they embraced the fire. Fire in small business is the creative spark that helps you to stay fresh, ahead of competitors and continually innovating. Here are a few ways to make sure you are still encouraging the right unstoppable fires in your business to prepare for the future:

  1. Hire people who disagree with you. A fire can come from a debate, and if you only have people in your small business who agree with you – focus on finding some dissenters in the mix. The resulting disagreement that ensues may lead your small business to better ideas that you may not have otherwise come to, as long as you are on the same page about the bigger things.
  2. Look outside your industry. It is tempting to just focus on directly relevant examples of businesses doing something innovative in your space, but sometimes the best idea sparks can come out of reading something completely unrelated to your business. Here’s one easy way to get new ideas – go to a bookstore and pick up a magazine written for an industry that you aren’t in. The ideas you find there might inspire you to try something new for your business.  
  3. Encourage more experimentation. When employees are encouraged to follow the status quo, innovation typically comes to a standstill. What can you do to get people to experiment with new ways of doing things? Can you have employees “swap” jobs for a day? What about encouraging a moment in time where employees come together to think of new untried ways to promote your business or serve your customers better/differently?       

The most successful businesses find a way to stay relevant and avoid stagnating. Your business needs the fire of innovation in order to survive. What are you doing to make sure that fire still happens?

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