One hit wonders, they happen in music, art, cars, and business. All it takes is a good idea, some hard work, sufficient resources, and a little bit of luck.
You need to develop skills to sustain innovation. I work in an environment that requires creative outside the box thinking to push the boundaries everyday. I am put in challenge situations where the status quo doesn’t cut it but ne is stepping up to the plate to make a change – or sometimes even to call out that there is a problem. I have created a list of skills that I use to keep the ball rolling.
1. Challenge assumptions
The biggest enemy of innovation is the unspoken attitudes and beliefs we cling to about our processes and the people who manage them. The more success we achieve based on those assumptions, the more we tend to focus on protecting the status quo versus exploring what could be.
To challenge these assumptions, ask: What has changed with our users, systems, processes, or the world at large? What assumptions are we continuing to make about our business simply because we “know them to be true”? In my company we had a significant delay in a process to pay suppliers on time. Upon review I asked the simple question of why we waited 21 days for approval to route the invoice.. the answer “because we always have” said out loud made us all do a double take and started some real conversations about how the process would work better.
Innovators get ahead by shedding old ideas and ways of thinking faster than their competitors. This can only happen by challenging your assumptions on a regular basis.
2. Get a new perspective
The human brain tends to screen in data that proves us right and screen out anything that contradicts our prevailing point of view. As a result, we often filter, distort, or ignore the information coming in, so that we only see what we want to see.
Changing your perspective enables the brain to break out of its rigid thinking patterns and see the world in new and different ways. It opens the mind to new possibilities, and focuses your attention on what could be rather than what is or what was. It also enables you to spot new patterns and connections that others might not see – a critical factor for successful innovation.
Changing your perspective doesn’t mean throwing out all your old ideas. Just the ones that get in the way of ongoing innovation.
3. Questions should be a main part of the conversation
The most powerful tool in your innovation tool box is Questioning, done effectively it will open people up to new ideas and possibilities. Used wrong questions will keep people stuck in the past. For example: “Why hasn’t your team come up with a new product this quarter? What are you going to do differently to innovate?” These kinds of questions put people on the defensive and shut down creative thinking.
Better to ask future, active, past tense questions that get people thinking and acting like the desired future state is already happening. For example: When we have successfully innovated, what does the new product look like? What problems is it solving for our customers? if we could do anything here what would you do?
Opening your teams minds to the possible of other options can shift their attention from why they can’t do something to what they did to achieve it. Once this shift has been made, the brain fills in with all sorts of options on how to achieve the goal. Do it often enough and it becomes a habit!
4. There is rarely one RIGHT answer
For the most part we’re taught that there is only one right answer to every problem. We often pass over potentially better solutions because we’re so sure the one we have is right.
Most problems have multiple solutions; some are better, easier, cheaper, or more viable than others. Rarely do we encounter situations where there is only one right answer. To nurture ongoing innovation, forget about finding THE right answer. Instead, focus on identifying as many potential answers as possible. Then choose the best one (or combination of ones) that most supports your innovation goal.
Open environments were sharing ideas nurture this process. Work to enable that synergy with the people you work with and you will all benefit in the long run.
5. First is not always best
Today’s hyper-fast business world creates a lot of pressure to make quick decisions. So we often tend to go with the first feasible solution rather than looking for better or different ideas. Not a good recipe for ongoing innovation!
Encourage your team to look for different and/or better solutions, by identifying the easiest answer then asking, “What underlying attitudes or beliefs are causing us to see this as the best or only solution?” Then work to cultivate alternative options from the team. Doing a fun activity can get people to really extend their minds, like have them come up with the silliest idea or most expensive they can think of. Innovation requires creativity.