Innovation is such a big buzz word nowadays. New age leaders claim it’s the what will keep companies afloat in this time and age. In the last year, so many leaders, writers and thinkers have used the word as often as they brush their teeth at night. Even I’m guilty of it (I brush my teeth every night).
I’m into innovation (see, I did it). I’m proud to say that it’s my job to keep looking into things and see how I can apply it to benefit my company. Despite it being my job to innovate (strike 2–okay I’ll stop counting now), I can’t really claim that I’m an innovation expert. In fact, I don’t think anybody can. But in my short stint as someone who tries to, I’ve found out pretty surprising things about this thing called innovation.
1) Innovation begins with a complex idea. No, it doesn’t. I think this is one of the most common misconceptions about innovation. Strangely, the best innovations sometimes come from the simplest insights. A simple insight from an unexpected source can effect change that is larger than life. A simple insight such as fathers are not heavily involved in child rearing duties like making milk and changing diapers can allow a company to create something for this unserved market. This leads me to the second learning about innovation:
2) To innovate, you need to have someone who can think of the wildest things. No, you don’t. In all honesty, I’m not good at thinking of wild ideas. A wild idea is something like Josiah Go’s favorite example: a toothpaste substitute that people can bring around without needing to bring along a toothbrush. These thoughts are not common in all people, but innovation still happens. What you need is someone who has the right mindset, be open to things and see where the opportunities lie. The innovator needs to have both a blank slate and a whole bag of points-of-view, to be able to see things both from a fresh perspective and through certain lens. In Edward de Bono terms, he has to have all hats and none.
3) Innovation comes from thinking outside the box. This is the most important lesson on innovation that I have learned so far. Innovation usually comes from the edge of the box. I learned this lesson first hand a few weeks ago, when I presented something to management. I was told that I may have been too eager to think outside the box, and by doing that, I overlooked a crucial thing in business innovation–I forgot about the core strengths of the organization. The truth is, innovation implies change, and change will not be appreciated if there is no baseline to compare it to. What truly makes an innovation an innovation is how a person or a company takes the limits of the situation and nullifies them. There can’t be limits if the thinking begins outside the box, because outside the box, there are no rules.
Based on these truths, innovation is not as hard as it looks. The hard part is finding someone who can promote this way of thinking within your company. How does this help my company’s culture?
For one, it keeps me on my toes–I have to keep abreast of current advancements and I have to be ready to accept that even though things work the way they are, they can still be changed to work better. How this helps me in my career is that I can’t be the first to be resistant to change; I always have to keep an open mind and keep moving forward. Whether it’s a promotion, a reorganization or a change in job function, this mindset helps keep me positive about things. How this helps the culture is it keeps the morale going, moving forward. Every organization needs this.
Another thing is, people will not be afraid to throw ideas around in the workplace. If there is at least one person in your workplace that anyone can throw ideas around with, you can be sure that eventually that habit will spread. Even though other people shoot ideas down, they will learn to go to that person they can share thoughts with and conquer the fear of being shot down.
Again, this idea seems so simple. But try it out for your company, I assure you that the effects will be larger than life.