Innovation is high on the agenda of virtually every organization. It’s all about renewal and creating an impact. Don’t disappear behind your desk to come up with an idea that nobody is waiting for, but interact with customers and the world as a way to shape the future. Creating an 'innovative mindset' is a hallmark of new leadership. We’ve got 6 tips for you!
How do you stimulate innovation in your organization when the structure and targets are often perceived as hindrances? How do you ensure that you and your colleagues don’t hang on to stale, familiar ideas, and leave pioneering ones on the wall of post-it notes? How can you create an 'innovative mindset’, where tension is seen as a positive force?
Innovation is certainly related to the ever-accelerating technological developments, but this is not always the case. Often, the most important thing is to understand what your user is really looking for. The trick is to spot these opportunities in time, and to be 'agile' and creative enough as an organization to respond.
So, how do you get the people in your team or organization actively involved in innovation? Rutger Slump is Senior Trainer at De Baak, and spends a lot of time working with organizations that want to innovate. With Simon Douw, he co-authored the book Baanbreker! (‘Trailblazer!’) on this topic, and here are a number of his tips.
1. Make sure there is a clear creative challenge
Innovation starts with formulating a clear vision and mission, and with creative challenges that reflect them. In other words, what do you stand for as an organization and what is your exciting goal? Indeed, this sounds like a disappointing no-brainer as a first tip, but we still encounter it much too little in the work field. Lengthy documents often deal with preserving the existing, with the addition of buzzwords like 'social' and 'sustainable’. Dare to be more concise, inspiring and challenging. To stay in the Kennedy mindset, what is the moon we want to land on? What is the inspirational goal that gets the creative juices flowing and makes every professional stop and think?
2. Build a functionally diverse team
Innovation rarely flows from one person, despite what blockbusters like a Beautiful Mind and Mozart make us believe. The innovative mindset is almost always the outcome of a team where the members dare to let their voices be heard. An example of one familiar creative team is the A-Team, a group of four strong characters with a single mission. Every team member has a talent, but also a weakness. They regularly enter into conflict with each other, but at the same time know that they need each other’s unique qualities. This is fiction, of course, but instructive nevertheless. Creativity requires us to be 100% ourselves, without losing contact with each other. This is only possible if we realize that, to arrive at an innovative solution, we really need the other and ourselves, with all our knowledge and human peculiarities. It’s also important that the unique qualities of the team members suit the subject at hand: we call this functionally diverse. If someone comes from New York, for example, it might be a unique feature. But it’s irrelevant to developing an innovative solution.
3. Dare to learn and make mistakes
Innovation means learning. It’s about us wanting to do something which we’re not doing yet, and it takes time for us to learn, to make mistakes, and to improve. It requires fostering a culture where mistakes can be made, new ideas are valued and researched, and people can basically discuss everything. "Everything" sounds like a lot, especially for the average manager, but as soon as taboos appear people become cautious and lose their individuality. Do you recognize this in your relationships? People will correct each other, you don’t need to worry about that. Make sure people dare to learn and see openness about mistakes as positive. As a leader, show the way.
4. Learn to innovate
Innovation is a profession. Make sure you have the knowledge and skills to innovate. You need to know how to go about it so that you don’t come to a grinding halt right after a great brainstorming session. There are all kinds of methods, including design thinking, which we use in many of our projects. However, it’s important to remember that the human factor always determines the success of the method. A good team can still make a terrible method work, but vice versa is a lot harder. So make sure that people know not only how to approach things, but also know how to pull together if the going gets tough. That’s what always happens when you really innovate, unless you’re working on something stale with no prospects.
5. Buy a skippy ball
The cliché of an innovative area is the 'google space with slide and skippy ball'. This makes no sense and a lot of sense at the same time. The basic principle is that the behavior someone shows depends on their environment. There’s a good reason we’ll go to a bar with friends for a drink, rather than the restaurant of a department store. Let your creative team determine the environment they believe appropriate to the stage they’re in. For example, we went to business hubs with teams when we wanted to talk about business plans. To a lecture hall when we wanted to understand students. And we simply sat in an office when we wanted to brainstorm concepts with colleagues. You want to be where things work. Lots of companies now have great innovation spaces, but it’s clear that these spaces already define behavior and were dreamt up by Facility Management. Be creative and decide for yourself what is needed. That might simply be a skippy ball: if it works, why not?
6. Be a pioneer yourself
Our last tip is about your own mindset and aims in life. What are you willing to take risks for? Startups are known for being high-risk, but a larger established organization will often have to take risks in order to get off the beaten path and score success. If you are successful you can expect a reward, but if you fail you also have to take the consequences. To repeat the question: what are you prepared to take risks for, what is it that is so important for yourself, the organization and hopefully the world? Otherwise, don’t waste any more time, because innovating is a messy process and hard work. When it succeeds however, it’s fantastic.
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