It's nearly impossible to mention Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and current CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, without thinking about innovation. Musk is truly a king of innovation, sharing the stage with other entrepreneurial giants as Sir Richard Branson, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and Walt Disney, to name a few.
The quality of life as we know it wouldn't be the same without these entrepreneurs. The value they add to our lives is priceless, from entertainment to travel to technology. Though most entrepreneurs have vastly different perspectives on how to run business or conduct leadership, one thread unites them all: innovation.
But there's much more to innovation than just thinking differently. You have to lay the groundwork first. The following are a few simple examples that have helped me think differently create and further enhance my company Wakanow, an online traveling agency for people traveling to and from Africa.
"Think different." This adage was always part of entrepreneurship, but it became a huge part of pop culture in 1997 when Apple released its now famous advertising campaign of that same name.
These innovators are the rebels. The misfits. The ones who have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them - but the one thing you can't do is ignore them. That's what makes these leaders a force to be reckoned with in their respective industries.
Those who think differently push us to be greater, which to some may be perceived as "crazy." Simply put, the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are usually the ones who do. But before you can truly think differently, you have to build a foundation, and that starts with a unique vision.
Having vision requires thinking well beyond the basic idea. Think of the creators of Google: in the late 1990s, while doctoral students at Stanford, Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched the search engine Google with a single vision - to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
In turn, Google has become one of the most profitable companies of the 21st Century. The vision here appeared far-fetched back then, but think about where Google is now. Businesses can't survive without an online presence on Google.
My vision for Wakanow was just as grand: smooth travel to and from Africa is not a simple task due to economic conditions, such as viruses and civil unrest. Have an idea but think it's off the wall? Dig deep within yourself, and don't hold anything back. Bring the idea down to the simplest terms, and go for it.
Your startup may not have that massive Apple/Google appeal from a product/services standpoint, but don't let that slow your vision - even the ideas you think are truly crazy.
Vision can't flourish without passion. Richard Branson describes passion perfectly: "There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passion in a way that serves the world and you."
I believe the more passionate one is about solving a problem or achieving a result, the more likely one will be successful - whether that means trying to figure out how to internationalize Disney-owned content or developing strategies to reach and engage a younger audience on mobile.
My passion for ease of travel in and out of Africa led to the creation of Wakanow. My continued passion led to the creation of another extension of the Wakanow brand, Destination Africa, which makes African tourism much simpler.
For those involved in startups, a study in the psychology of innovation will provide a smoother path to successful entrepreneurship. This out-of-the-box thinking has helped me build Wakanow into a top online travel agency. Practice these lessons daily to grow your innovative side. Your business (and personal life) will surely benefit from it.
Obinna Ekezie is the co-founder and CEO of Wakanow.com, the leading full-service, online travel company in Africa. Obinna played in the NBA for eight seasons and was selected with the 37th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies after playing with the Maryland Terrapins from 1995-1999. Following his basketball career, Obinna founded Wakanow out of his personal frustration that there were no options to easily book travel online between the U.S. and his native Nigeria and Nigeria and other parts of the world.