Innovation Through a New Lens

Innovation has become the fastest and biggest way to win in today’s tough marketplace. Not just with incremental improvements, but with powerful changes in the way you do things, compete, and grow your business.

But how do you get everyone involved? From your newest hire to your boss’s boss, as well as your customers? 

Many of the Innovation Pied Pipers have it right: Innovation is everyone’s job. No matter where you are in the hierarchy, you can think up important ideas. You can ask different questions. You can find simpler ways to do things! The sky is the limit! You can make ordinary opportunities extraordinary! You can do anything you set your mind to! Etc., Rah, rah, rah. All true… But…  

Those same Pied Pipers are also naive! You’ve probably tried all that, once, twice, thrice and more… and gotten shot down — haven’t you?! Everywhere I go, everybody already gets that their job is to innovate. Everybody wants to innovate! The core problem isn’t the will or desire to innovate. It’s corporate structures, cultures and more.

Unless you work for a best-of-the-best leader, or one of Forbes or FastCo‘s most innovative companies — your company’s dedication to risk aversion and incremental, safe, predictable, tightly managed change may be the biggest barrier you have.  

Let’s take a new view of innovation.
A view where each of us takes a tiny chunk of accountability for smashing the barriers that hold us back. Let’s, each one of us…

Create a Culture of Innovation

Making it easier for everyone
The secret is not focusing on innovation at all. It’s in focusing on the enablers and anchors…the stuff that makes innovation happen — how you think, how you connect with people, how you share, how you sell ideas, and more.

Three steps…

Plan Your Own Innovator’s Journey

With any dimension of our lives, the only person who truly limits our actions is ourself.
> Understand that innovation is crucial to your own career path. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you to push against the status quo, you need to. Your career and livelihood is at stake
> Disrupt yourself. Check out the habits on pages 11, 23, 35 and 47 of Click, a freebie How To guide on disruption
> Find the causes or projects you’re most passionate about. The best way to build your courage is to begin with something you really care about!
> Tap into your network. There’s strength and safety in numbers. That could be your immediate team or your broader tribe or communities to which you belong.
> Start small. Every big journey (or project) because with a small, simple, single step. 

Build the Space for Your Team to Innovate

For now, don’t worry about pushing ideas upward. Your job: Make your team interactions a safe place for people to try new ideas, to experiment, to skin their knees and try again.
> Declare and maintain a safe space for experimenting. You may not be able to do this for anything beyond the borders of your team, but surely there are some things you can!
> Be the shit umbrella (as Flickr founder Caterina Fake said in Disrupt): If you manage people, your job is to protect them from Corporate Stupidity… Help them find easier ways to execute (or sometimes ignore) stuff from above, so they waste less of their time on stupid stuff.
> Build a process for rapid prototyping. Again, you may not be able to do this for anything beyond your team’s boundaries…But within your team’s activities you can explore ways for people to quickly try something new, put it out there, get feedback, improve it, and keep doing that again and again.

Become a Lifelong Student on How to Sell New Ideas

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a worker-bee or mid-manager in a large company, or if you’re an solo entrepreneur. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling innovation or shoes. Everybody who works must become masters of selling new ideas. Some basic tips…
> Never start with your needs or your idea. What matters most is NOT how you see the situation, but how the person you’re trying to sell it to sees it. Always work backwards from the other person’s needs.
> Yes, build a business case… (an analysis of why this idea will make money or save money)… But remember that whoever you are selling to is also a person. So…
> Focus on your decision-maker’s carrot or stick. Every human being is motivated by avoiding pain (stick) and/or some reward that’s enjoyable. Most often, the carrot is best. But remember to focus on what matters to THAT individual. You may bring your boss a great idea that will make lots of money and make her look good (carrot), but for her to sponsor it, she’d have to risk being judged by her peers (stick). In that case, her most important motivation may be that you present a safe way to pilot the new idea that reduces to near-zero the possibility that she may look bad.
> Some inexpensive How To tips: How to Work Smarter by Asking the Right Questions; Easy Ways to Build the Courage to Work Smarter; Selling You While Explaining Your Work 

The new lens is that it’s not enough to believe innovation is everybody’s job and start coming up with great ideas. 

Each of us also has a responsibility to apply that positive belief to removing the barriers to innovation, for ourselves and our teammates.

Think epic, but start small.

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