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Putting the “I” into Innovation for Greater Success at Work

By Hilary Weber, Founder and CEO, Opportu

Innovation for greater success at work

According to KPMG’s 2017 CEO Outlook report, 72% of CEOs reported that they are actively disrupting their sectors – in other words, innovation is a top priority.  However, (57%) say their organizations “do not have the sensory capabilities and innovative processes to respond to rapid disruption”.   Now ask yourself: How important is innovation to our business?  And how ready are we to innovate successfully at our company?

It may feel quite daunting for you as an individual in a company (especially a large enterprise) to feel like you can have an impact on making your company more innovative, but you do have the capacity to change your own behaviors.  Innovation starts with “I” – the question to ask yourself is, “What can I do to help us innovate in a more effective way?”

As Lao Tse said, “the journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”.  Below are six simple steps you can take to begin to move the culture of your team in an innovation-ready direction.  Repeat after me:

I will leave my ego at the door.

A sure-fire innovation killer is the person with an ego the size of Texas walking in to the meeting and having to control the conversation, or spin every good idea as their own.  This “Me” oriented behavior needs to be weeded out for innovation to begin to flourish.

I will be more resilient when I try and fail.

Failing is never fun.  But true innovation only comes after lots of trial and error – think “Thomas Edison and nine hundred and ninety-nine ways to NOT invent the lightbulb”.  If you stop and think for a moment about actually sitting down and going through a thousand different ways to solve a problem, that’s quite a slog.  Most people would bail out long before reaching the answer.  How do you help yourself bounce back from a failed attempt (or many of them)?  How might you model resilient behavior for those around you?

I will make it OK for my team to try and fail.

If you lead a team, you can influence their feelings about how OK it is to fail.  What if you told a story about one of your own failed attempts at innovation at the next team meeting?  Allowing yourself to be a bit vulnerable with your team can be a very powerful way to help them see that not only is it OK, but you also have empathy – you’ve been there and have done that too.

I will think about new ideas from my customer’s perspective, and we’ll build things with them, not for them.

In Silicon Valley, startups purposely build minimally viable products (MVPs for short), which are basically rough, early versions of new product ideas.  Most big enterprises shy away from showing customers anything that is not polished and wrapped in a nice neat package (literally), but many of those same companies missed the mark by spending staggering amounts of money on developing products that nobody actually wanted.  The startup principle follows that customers need to be your partners in design – they will let you know if you’re on to something, and they’ll even contribute to the refining of the idea if you’re willing to let the company’s “brand shields” down far enough to give customers a way in at an early stage.

I will avoid falling in love with my own ideas.

When someone gets too “emotionally involved” with their own idea, I call it “creating a 3-handled widget”.  What possible use would such a contraption be on a broad scale?  It’s an idea “only an inventor could love”.  Sometimes it stems from an ego issue (this idea is good because it’s MINE!) and other times, it’s simply a myopic view of the situation.  Always be sure to step back – WAY back – from your ideas to make sure they have relevance to your organization and have merit in the eyes of your target customers.  Look well beyond your own loving gaze.

I will surround myself with diverse minds and contrarian viewpoints to make our innovative ideas richer and stronger.

Back when crash dummies were first used to ensure car safety with air bags, some of the early outcomes were terrible tragedies.  A number of women and children who were involved in road accidents in the cars with the early air bags died from the impact.  It was then discovered that the dummies had only tested the effects on people the size and weight of grown men.  It was no coincidence that all of the engineers on those testing teams were  - you guessed it – grown men. 

Having many different mindsets, backgrounds and points of view – what I call “mind diversity” – requires actual diversity: gender, ethnic background, age, experience, functional expertise, and all walks of life.  Having this array of perspectives allows for a broader set of ideas – and it also helps to ensure that you will not be blindsided by an aspect that a narrower group just didn’t see.

Going back to the KPMG CEO Outlook study, 81% of the leaders surveyed are placing a greater focus on trust, values and culture this year.  If you review the six steps outlined above, you will note that elements of a healthy company culture run through each of them.  Try them out and you’ll be an innovation change agent in no time.

I wish you the best of luck with your innovative endeavors!

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