3 Tips for Unlocking Innovation at Your Organization
Innovation has always been important in the business world. Companies that don’t innovate pay the cost of inaction — competition finds a way to challenge the status quo and take over. We’ve seen this time and time again across several industries.
But in our current circumstances, confronting a global pandemic, we’re all experiencing major disruptions. Whether we’re navigating how to work from home effectively or pivoting our business to adapt and survive, we’re all faced with an urgent need to innovate.
For many of us, the feeling is like getting caught in a riptide. Our first instinct is to paddle and kick as hard as we can — to double down on what we’ve always done, stay up later, work longer hours. But the way to escape a riptide isn’t to paddle harder. Instead, you have to swim sideways. And the way out of our current situation isn’t to do more of what we’ve always done. Instead, we need to innovate.
What exactly do I mean by the term “innovate”? It’s important to pull apart creativity and innovation.
Creativity is about the pursuit of an artistic endeavor, while innovation is thinking differently about what’s right in front of you to create a competitive advantage. Innovation involves changing your perspective on your existing resources, people, opportunities, and challenges and finding a new approach or different angle. And the end result is a competitive advantage, which could be a better way to do a process, a new product, or anything that gives you an edge.
My course, Smart Tips: Innovation offers actionable tips for unlocking innovation within yourself and your employees. I’ll share a few highlights in this post.
Why all companies should prioritize innovation
We’re currently in a situation where innovation could not be more critical. There’s a lot of opportunity for everyone in all parts of your business. The path is uncharted, so we can figure it out and move forward in a way that works for us. What we did yesterday no longer works, but that also means that if we innovate, we can turn obstacles into opportunities.
These points feel especially meaningful right now due to the pandemic, but there are other factors at play, too. For example, McKinsey found that 6 out of 10 jobs can be automated by technology — and that number continues to grow. If we want to show what we’re capable of and be indispensable to our employers, we need to innovate. The job we have today won’t necessarily exist in the same form tomorrow.
At the same time, 75% of employees feel they’re not living up to their creative potential according to research by Adobe. The majority of people in the workforce feel unfulfilled or unsatisfied with their work. They have the sense that they’re simply checking tasks off their to-do lists without really challenging themselves to come up with innovative solutions.
There’s a real opportunity here: Encouraging our employees to innovate helps our business and it helps our employees, too. Let’s explore a few of the ways you can promote innovation at your organization.
1. Understand the science of innovation
Some people believed in the past that innovation was an inherent skill — either you have it or you don’t — or that it was linked to a specific part of the brain.
But neuroscience and behavioral psychology have shown us that innovation is a whole-brain experience. All of us have the structures for innovation.
In fact, intelligence and innovation are actually two separate structures in the brain. Intelligence is similar to highways or deep grooves, while innovation has a lot of loose side roads that are connected across the brain. This tells us that everyone can innovate and we all have the skills to do it.
2. Learn to use inciting questions to unlock innovation
Everyone has assumptions based on the way things have always been done. We may look at the market and our competitors and think that there’s no way to challenge or shake things up.
Asking inciting questions can help us unlock innovation. Most of us get stuck in our assumptions and continue to ask the usual questions. But when you’re able to ask a question that makes you uncomfortable, you can find innovation.
For example, wine is almost always produced in vineyards and sold in glass bottles. But does it have to be? This was the inciting question that led Ben Parsons to found Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery, an urban winery that sold wine in single-serving cans. By asking an inciting question, Ben was able to create a breakthrough innovation in the way wine is sold and distributed.
3. Don’t try to innovate and analyze at the same time
Our brains are capable of many amazing feats, but they can only innovate or analyze — they can’t do both at the same time. This is why it’s so important to give ourselves space and permission to brainstorm without judgment. Otherwise, our brains are quick to judge and find holes in our ideas. If we take this approach, we’ll never get to the innovation stage.
I always recommend breaking innovation and analysis into two separate chunks. Even if it’s the same meeting, you can dedicate the first 40 minutes to brainstorming. Come up with as many ideas as you can, no matter how outlandish they may sound. Don’t make any judgment; just brainstorm. Then, in the last 20 minutes, you can focus on analyzing. That’s when you assess which ideas might actually work and what steps you need to take to follow through with them. Giving yourself permission to chunk it as two steps versus trying to do it all at once increases your chances of actually coming up with innovative ideas.
I hope the strategies I shared here help demystify the idea of innovation. When we understand how innovation works, we discover that it’s a power we all have. The goal of my course, Smart Tips: Innovation, is to provide the tools to unlock the innovation you and your employees already have inside you.
Empower your team. Lead the industry.
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